Harrisburg City Councilman Brad Koplinski, former Congressman Mark Critz, State Senator Mike Stack, Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith, former PSU assitant football coach Jay Paterno and Harrisburg city adviser Brenda Alton took the stage to debate progressive issues in their quest for the Democratic nomination for Lietunant Governor.
Two, in particular, emerged from the pack as ready and prepared to be the Lieutenant Governor – Koplinski and Stack.
Stack talked about his experience in the State Senate, where he’s been for the last 13 years, fighting for progressive issues, he said.
“I was fighting Tom Corbett before it was cool,” he said, making the claim that he was the progressive hipster in the bunch.
“Tom Corbett hasn’t met an underdog that he hasn’t wanted to kick under the bus,” he continued. “In his first week in office, he wanted to get rid of the Adult Basic program.”
A question about the General Assembly’s Women’s Health Caucus was perfectly suited to his experience and he was able to talk about the progress of the bills.
Koplinski was also able to provide substantative answers, based on his experience as a Harrisburg City Councilman and then working in the Department of Justice, under the Civil Rights Department.
All of the candidates agreed that voting reforms were needed to increase ballot access, but Koplinski stood out here as well with an answer that earned a few chuckles from the audience that was chowing down upon free boxed lunches.
“We’re behind the times here in PA,” he said. “We’re like the wild west on campaign finance reform.”
There were brief fireworks, as expected, between the progressive audience and a stage full of candidates who were unwilling to support a fracking moratorium – all but Alton and Koplinski.
“There are economic benefits, but at what costs?” she asked.
Koplinski’s support of the moratorium was conditional – that new wells were banned until there was thorough research on what was going into the water. In the event that fracking could be done safely, he proposed a high severance tax, even on par with the 24% extraction tax found in Sarah Palin’s Alaska.
The other candidates qualified their “no’s” on the moratorium by mentioning the important economic impacts of the industry, which was of particular interest to Smith, who hails from Bradford County, the largest producer of natural gas.
“It’s been a tough issue for me. I have a lot of experience on the issue from the economic to environmental side,” Smith explained. “I want to see DEP fully funded and on the flip side, I want to see that we are developing our economy and creating jobs.”
The forum seemed to stumble Critz a bit, who answered that he wasn’t sure to at least two of the questions and then made the assertion that the Lt. Gov. existed solely as a tool in the governor’s tool box, but that he was able to help the ticket win in the general election and would learn about the office before he took it.
Critz was able to talk a great deal about his campaign experience and the following that he has in Southwest PA, underrepresented on the dais today as State Rep. Brandon Neuman could not attend. After running in four multi-million dollar campaigns in the area, Critz believes that advantage will be a major boost to the electability of the Democratic ticket.
But Alton pointed out her unique advantages to the ticket as well, striking chords with the audience by pointing out that she was the only woman and African American on the stage and therefore had overcome immense adversity.
Paterno gave many vague answers to questions as the newest entrant into the field, but made a strong pitch on his devotion to public service, citing the influence of his mother in molding him into someone actively involved in education and charity.
“The only reason you should get into politics is to help people in trouble,” he told the audience, riffing off of a John F. Kennedy quote.