(Lancaster, Pa.) — In a forum cohosted by Franklin & Marshall College, WGAL News, PennLive/Patriot News and Lancaster Online, the Democratic candidates for governor fired shots at Governor Tom Corbett – and a Tom of their own, Mr. Wolf.
The candidates went twenty minutes before barbs were launched at Wolf, and Allyson Schwartz attacked first. She began with a thinly veiled reference at Wolf’s involvement in the legal defense fund of convicted lawmaker Steven Stetler, and then things became nasty.
Schwartz turned to face Wolf as she launched her attack, suggesting that his support of Stetler implied that he would allow corrupt friends to serve in a Wolf administration. Wolf gave his regular response on the topic – that Stetler was a friend and he was entitled to the full process of the American justice system and that he maintains that his friend is a good person.
Katie McGinty was then asked about accepting $125,000 from the executive of a coal company whose project she fast-tracked while at the PA DEP as an entry into a discussion about ethics.
“If your issue is environment, then I am your candidate,” McGinty responded. “The permit you’re talking about – well, if slow bureaucracy is ok, I’m not your gal. When I’m hired to run a department, I’m going to run it. The environment is not helped when projects to improve environment are buried in paperwork.”
She was pressed a bit harder on whether that contribution would taint her leadership as governor, and surprisingly, opponent Rob McCord jumped to her defense, saying that he didn’t believe the contribution would affect her decision making. The rest of the candidates moved into a discussion of a gift ban that would be more inclusive than a simple cash ban. Schwartz took the discussion a bit further and recommended annual ethics reviews for elected officials and the application of federal campaign finance laws at the state level.
Wolf used the question to talk about his time as Revenue Secretary when he declined benefits and salary, and Schwartz attacked again. She pointed out that he was an anomaly in the ability to decline a salary and that his wealth allowed him unusual opportunities.
“I think there is a lot of nonsense there,” Wolf responded. To be fair, Schwartz is worth approximately $5 million. “You’re asking me to apologize for not accepting benefits.”
“I’m not asking you to apologize,” Schwartz retorted.
And that spat continued for several minutes before McCord broke in to criticize Corbett’s budget priorities. McGinty joined him to promote job creation and restoration of education funding.
For the rest of the forum, candidates focused on Corbett and Wolf shifted out of the hot seat.
They all blamed Corbett for the increase in property taxes, though none advocated for an elimination, but rather an increase of state contribution.
Wolf won this topic with a specific answer about increasing the state investment to 50%, up from 32% and stressing the importance of “local skin in the game” to fund their schools.
On an entirely different topic, the candidates were pushed to answer whether they support the death penalty with a simple yes or no answer.
Schwartz was the only adamant opponent to capital punishment, and the others supported a moratorium while there is discussion of sentencing reform.
As is his custom, McCord the proclaimed Corbett slayer, gave strong answers about education, refusing to accept Corbett’s answer about education funding that the cuts come from a loss of federal stimulus dollars.
Per the usual, the candidates stated that they support Pennsylvania accepting the Medicaid expansion, and Schwartz reiterated her work on and support of the Affordable Care Act.
There was a bit of discussion on pension reform, and this time it was McCord who aimed at Wolf, calling the plan offered to his employees is similar to Governor Tom Corbett’s proposal. While the Wolf Organization once offered defined benefits to retirees, they now offer a 401k plan.
When it came to closing statements, three of the candidates pitched their qualifications, their go-getter-ness and the unique attributes of their personal stories. Schwartz took a different approach, and her statement was the final words of the debate.
“Tom has told a very nice story of his life, but I’m not sure it’s so different. You put on TV a story of your business, but the fact is that you leave out a big chunk, that when you left the company, you were paid $20 million to get out,” she began. “It’s perfectly acceptable, it’s what happens in business. But [because of that] the company had to restructure and had to lay off hundreds of people.”
“Somehow that part of the story is left out of your ads. I think we each know that we need a governor that will tell us the whole story,” she concluded.
The timbre of this debate was starkly different than the early, congenial appearances where the candidates focused on policy substance. At one point, Wolf suggested that they get back to that and Schwartz shut him down, saying that their personal style and history were important considerations in the process.
The forum was moderated jointly by F&M’s Terry Madonna, PennLive’s John L. Micek, Lancaster Online’s Karen Shuey and WGAL’s Pete Munlean.
The PA GOP issued their standard post-forum response.
“Once again, the Democratic gubernatorial candidates debated over who was the most out of touch with Pennsylvania voters,” Gleason said. “Whether it’s pushing for higher taxes or bragging about their support of Obamacare, these Democratic candidates are more concerned with scoring cheap political points among liberal special interests groups than offering actual solutions for Pennsylvania families.”