After weeks of exchanging barbs via television ads and press releases,
12th Congressional District contenders Tim Burns and Mark Critz aired their grievances in person Wednesday night on a stage in Richland Township.
Each addressed hot-button phrases in this campaign – including Social Security privatization, the so-called “fair tax” and the “liberal agenda” – that have been fodder for attack ads.
And, before a crowd that applauded throughout the hour-long session at Richland Senior High School, each candidate claimed that his actions and beliefs have been distorted.
“The accusations that have come from my opponent are based on complete lies,” said Burns, a Republican vying for the seat formerly held by the late John Murtha.
Added Democratic candidate Critz: “You talk about smear campaigns, I’ve been under attack this whole campaign.”
Both men have attempted to paint some issues with broad strokes: Burns and the GOP have tried to capitalize on the fact that Critz benefited from a fundraiser held by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“He will be one more vote for the liberal agenda. Don’t kid yourself,” Burns said.
But Critz pledged his political independence.
“Tim, you don’t know me very well,” Critz said. “Nobody tells me what to do.”
Conversely, Critz and the Democratic Party have repeatedly blasted Burns for “shipping jobs overseas” and taking advantage of a “tax loophole” that encouraged such a practice.
But Burns says any job loss at the company he founded, TechRx, occurred after he had sold the business.
“I never shipped any jobs overseas,” he said.
A potentially important exchange involved Social Security. Critz says he has signed a pledge that he will not attempt to privatize the program, and his campaign has accused Burns of being a privatization advocate.
Up to this point, Burns has not said he supports privatization but has said “we need to have all options on the table.” He reiterated that position earlier this week in an interview with The Tribune-Democrat.
But on Wednesday, Burns stated flatly that “I will pledge to all of you, and in public, that I will not support privatization of Social Security.”
Burns also has been hammered for supposedly favoring the “fair tax,” which would institute a national sales tax. Attack ads have not mentioned, however, that advocates for that new levy also want to do away with the current federal tax system.
Critz on Wednesday read an excerpt from a Burns interview in which he said he would “love” to see the fair-tax system implemented.
But Burns took exception, saying his quote was “taken out of context” and arguing that he would not support the “fair tax” if elected.
“I do not believe it’s practical,” Burns said.
On the polarizing issue of health-care reform, Burns again on Wednesday said Critz “supports Nancy Pelosi’s health-care bill.”
But Critz has repeatedly said he would have voted against that bill.
While not in favor of repealing the bill – as Burns is – Critz said he wants to address issues that he believes were left out.
Even that line of reasoning spurred Burns to later say that Critz had been “strangely silent” during the final stages of the health-care debate – a debate that was happening even after Critz was no longer employed as Murtha’s district director.
“You didn’t tell anybody about (opposition to the bill) until after the bill was passed,” Burns said, adding that he believes Pelosi may have played a role in that.
Earlier, though, Critz said he’s tired of hearing about Pelosi’s supposed influence in this race.
“I want to remind my opponent that this campaign is for the 12th Congressional District,” Critz said.