The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Chip Minemyer

April 8, 2012

Chip Minemyer | Here’s why you should attend 12th district debate

STATE COLLEGE — When the candidates in the Democratic primary in the new 12th Congressional District get together on Monday, you should be there, too.

This newspaper will co-sponsor a debate between candidates Mark Critz of Johnstown and Jason Altmire of the Pittsburgh area.

This election could be historical, and it certainly will be meaningful in our region.

And you’ll get a chance to do something special – hear directly from the candidates their views on the important issues facing western Pennsylvania.

The debate will also be co-sponsored by WJAC-TV and the Pitt-Johnstown Student Government Association, and will be held at 7 p.m. at the university’s Heritage Hall.

Here’s why this debate matters:

* The informed electorate?

Thomas Jefferson said: “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

Too often, we go to the polls without knowledge – and the results are obvious.

Approval ratings for those serving at every level of government are embarrassingly low.

But is it their fault that we send them to Washington, or to Harrisburg?

Come out and hear Critz and Altmire speak.

You’ll be a smarter, better-informed voter than if you simply rely on campaign rhetoric and image advertising.

* Which one do you like?

Here’s another great political quote, this from W.C. Fields: “I never vote for anyone. I always vote against.”

If you live in the 12th district, will you vote for a candidate or against one?

Too often, we settle for the one we dislike the least. But that’s no way to choose our leaders.

If you sit in a room with these two candidates, listening to them answer questions and counter each other’s views, you should come away liking one better than the other – feeling that one is a better match for you and your community.

Critz and Altmire are both good guys.

However, they’ll differ on some key issues. Their voting records are certainly not identical. Their personalities – for whatever that’s worth – are not the same.

Give yourself a chance to like one of these candidates, not simply cast a vote against one of them.

* The region’s future?

Will Johnstown’s future hang in the balance as voters in the new 12th Congressional District head to the polls later this month? That question has been raised, especially by those supporting Critz.

The region has been home to a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for decades, but that could change.

Republican John Saylor and Democrat John Murtha, both from the area, had the seat from 1949 until Murtha’s death in 2010. Since a special election two years ago, Johnstown’s Critz, a longtime Murtha staffer, has held the seat.

But what about 2013 and beyond?

Whoever emerges from this primary battle will face a strong fall opponent in Allegheny County Republican Keith Rothfus, which should also make for a tough election.

But beginning on April 24, the landscape could begin to change.

Does Johnstown need to keep Critz in office? Or could Altmire or Rothfus represent this region just fine?

You can firm up your opinion on that key question by coming out to hear these two Democrats speak.

* What’d he say?

During the recent Republican presidential debates, several candidates basically talked themselves right out of contention in front of live audiences.

You’ll recall Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s famous “oops” moment when he couldn’t remember the name of the federal department he thought should be eliminated.

Back in 1960, the first televised presidential debate put a charismatic senator from Massachusetts on the road to the White House.

Although John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon sparred over the issues of the day – including Cuba and the growing Cold War – it was how they looked that turned the tide in Kennedy’s favor that day and, experts say, in the election.

Kennedy appeared fit and comfortable, Nixon weak from a recent illness. Two months later, Kennedy was elected president.

Will there be a classic moment on Monday night when Critz and Altmire square off?

Better be there to find out.

Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.

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