The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

February 28, 2014

Dem hopefuls stick to script during gubernatorial debate

HARRISBURG — Democrats competing to be the party’s standard-bearer against Re­pub­lican Gov. Tom Corbett stuck close to their campaign scripts in a Friday night debate before several hundred people, but the two-hour session produced a few surprises.

Six of the seven candidates participated in the event at the annual Pennsylvania Progressive Summit at a downtown hotel in Harrisburg. It was their first debate since the release of polls this week showing York businessman Tom Wolf as the front-runner on the heels of nearly a month of statewide TV ads aired by his campaign.

Two candidates – state Treasurer Rob McCord and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz – have tried to make an issue of Wolf’s wealth and the $10 million he is pumping into the primary election campaign, but they did not bring it up at the debate.

Instead, responding to a question about the need for stricter state campaign finance laws, Wolf defended his decision to tap his own money because the current system makes it the most effective way to get his message to the voters. This is his first campaign for public office.

“I don’t have too many other advantages in this race,” Wolf said. “I’m playing by the rules of the game as it exists right now.”

Still, he said, “I lament the role that money plays in democracy.”

In a discussion about pay equity for women, McCord seized the opportunity to call for increasing the state’s minimum wage to $10.70 an hour – a bigger boost from the current $7.25 federal minimum than any of his opponents has proposed. McCord said his proposal would lift more than 16,000 families out of poverty and that “It will help, not hurt, the economy.”

Near the end of the debate, the moderator said the panelists’ answers to many questions were similar and asked them to describe what qualities set them apart and why progressive voters should support them.

Schwartz stressed her 24 years of government experience in Congress and the state Senate.

“I know I can get things done” as governor, she said.

John Hanger, a former state environmental protection secretary, said he advocates the legalization and taxation of marijuana, as well as debt-free attendance for Pennsylvania residents for two years at community colleges or one year at a state university.

Katie McGinty, who preceded Hanger as state environmental protection chief and is a former environmental adviser to the Clinton White House, touted energy advancements she oversaw during Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration.

Wolf, a former Peace Corps volunteer and state revenue secretary who holds a doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, billed himself as a different kind of candidate.

“We can make this world fair and not only can we do that because it’s right, but because it works,” he said.

McCord said he has spent the most time “in the arena” challenging the Corbett administration’s policies and has won three statewide elections as treasurer – a contested primary and two general elections.

Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz also participated. Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner did not attend, citing other commitments.


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