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Dems Face Tough Questions in Pittsburgh Debate

Schwartz speakingPittsburgh – The 8 Democrats running for Governor faced the most daunting round of questions in the campaign so far on a snowy afternoon at Carnegie Mellon University.

The hosts, including the 14th Ward Democratic Club and the CMU College Dems, asked each candidate about a specific liability in his or her background, eliciting a plethora of telling responses.

The stakes were high: some of western Pennsylvania’s top Democratic brass had a front row seat to see the candidates on defense. Congressman Mike Doyle, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa have not announced plans to endorse in the primary.

Allyson Schwartz gave perhaps her best debate performance to date. She faced a question about her work founding and managing a women’s health clinic that performed abortions. It’s been called a general election risk by conservative Democrats, but the Congresswoman shone in her defense of her record.

“I helped start a women’s health center that was an important resource for the women in the Philadelphia area,” Schwartz said. “We provided a full range of services: gynecological care, parenting planning, first trimester abortions and prenatal care. There are women today who are grateful for the dignity and fine health service they received from the Blackwell Health Center.”

Former Pa. Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf frequently boasts about his construction supply business, which pays employees a living wage and includes profit-sharing. But he seemed caught off guard by a question about his company: why are there no women on his board of directors?

He emphasized that while his family business is owned by men, women play a significant role in its leadership.He added that his company’s management committee was more telling than the board.

“The management committee, if I was to look at it, has women in spades,” he said.

“The people who run the company, however, are women and men,” said Wolf. “My success is based on the fact that women have participated equally in the leadership of this company and have done great things to make my company successful.”

Katie McGinty, the former Department of Environmental Protection, gave a vague answer in response to a question about conflicts of interest with her work for Weston Solutions and the fact that it received state grants to redevelop industrial brownfields.

McGinty faced similar questions in 2007 when the DEP awarded $2.6 million in grants to groups that employed her husband. She was not accused of wrongdoing, but the State Ethics Committee later changed the rules governing cabinet secretaries and grant awards.

In this debate, she was adamant about eliminating any semblance of conflicting interests in government.

“The public rightly has lost confidence in leaders in government, in business and across the board,” McGinty said. “We have to have absolute prohibition on any conflict of interests — period.”

Keeping the rhythm

McCord debateState Treasurer Rob McCord won the day with another strong performance. And in case the benefits of his experience on the campaign trail weren’t self evident, he made the point directly.

“Experience running and winning statewide in a competitive primary matters for those of you who aren’t just daydreaming but are truly committed to defeating and evicting Tom Corbett,” said McCord, with a quick glance in McGinty’s direction.

He loudly defended labor unions and public education against what he called attacks by Gov. Tom Corbett.

“For me, Pennsylvania public school literally rescued me,” he said. “We have to recognize how flawed Governor Corbett has been. If he wants to improve public education his first job is to retire.”

McGinty also discussed her belief in strengthening unions. “We need to stop with the illegality in terms of interfering constitutional right to organize and collectively bargain.”

Despite rough roads and below freezing temperatures, hundreds of people crowded the auditorium to get a look at the candidates. Unlike previous years, no western Pa. Democrat has stepped forward to seek the nomination. All of the candidates hail from the Susquehanna River valley or further east.

John Hanger was at home with the progressive East End crowd. The former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary has made marijuana legalization the centerpiece of his campaign and he received loud applause from the audience when he put it in social justice terms.

“I believe in some simple common sense and I live in the real world,” Hanger said. “Marijuana arrests are half of all drug arrests, and we are arresting African Americans at five times the rate of whites. This is wrong and it must stop.”

He also noted that his campaign would report having raised over $1 million in 2013.

Memorably, Hanger struck the most emotional note of the afternoon when he talked about his son’s suicide at age 23 and his subsequent dedication to improve mental health services.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski competed with Wolf for the title of wonkiest candidate.

“I am the only one in this race that is a mayor, I am the only one that has run government, and I am the only one that has fixed pension system,” he said. “I am the only one that has brought economic development back to any part of this Commonwealth.”

Max Myers of Cumberland County faced a question about his stance on gay marriage. His background as an evangelical minister sets him apart from many of the contenders and he sought to avoid a categorical answer on the issue.

When asked if he would support same-sex marriage legislation, Myers said that he was in the middle. “I’m not answering,” he said. But he said that he was “uncomfortable with how the LGBT and women’s rights communities were treated” by the Republican party, which was why he became a Democrat.

Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz had the rockiest performance. She deferred a question about marijuana saying that the “FCC” was in charge of drug policy. Her conservative positions on social issues put her at odds with most of the field, but a softball question proved her biggest stumble. Asked to name her favorite place in Pittsburgh she said Presque Isle State Park, which is located in Erie.

Lightning round

Candidates had to give a yes or no answer to questions about the following issues.

Gay marriage. Every candidate said he or she supports gay marriage, aside from Myers and Litz who each took a pass.

Pro-life or pro-choice. Hanger, McCord, McGinty, Schwartz and Wolf all said they were pro-choice. Myers and Pawlowski each said they were in the middle. Litz said, “pass.”

Pawlowski later clarified his position when asked about it directly.

“My mother was counseled to abort me at a late stage,” he said. But while he is personally pro-life, he said he would support expanding access to women’s reproductive care.

Marijuana. Aside Litz, all the candidates said they supported decriminalizing marijuana possession and legalizing it for medical use. McCord said he was watching states that recently legalized post and that he expected the entire country would follow.

Marcellus moratorium. The candidates were, by and large, tepid. Their tone seemed apologetic to many in the debate audience – and demonstrators on the hallway outside – who made clear their support for a ban on hydrofracturing for Marcellus shale gas. Only Myers said he supports a moratorium. The rest said they back a ban on fracking in state forests and would improve drilling by taxing and regulating it.

UPMC vs. Highmark. All 8 candidates agreed that the contract dispute between the region’s leading healthcare provider and leading health insurer required state intervention to resolved. Embracing the messaging of advocates like SEIU Healthcare, the top tier candidates specifically singled out UPMC.

“It’s remarkable that UPMC has made an insurer look as good as it does!” Schwartz quipped.

Finally, asked their favorite place in Pittsburgh, McCord, McGinty and Wolf struck a chord.

McCord named the lobby of the the Omni William Penn hotel downtown, which he noted is good place to see the city’s political and business leaders.

“As an entrepreneurial type I never like to pay for office space,” he joked.

McGinty named Bakery Square, a formerly rundown area that has seen a resurgence in recent years and now hosts Google’s Pittsburgh operations.

“My favorite photograph of myself is one my wife took standing across the river from PNC Park,” said Wolf. He went on describe Pittsburgh as “one of the most formidable cities in the country. I love this place” – drawing a few “aws” from the audience.

GOP response

In addition to a dozen anti-fracking demonstrators, a few bold College Republicans stood outside the auditorium criticizing Democrats and supporting Corbett.

Corbett’s campaign blasted the candidates in a statement.

“With President Obama, their mentor, set to visit Pittsburgh this week, it was no surprise to see the candidates engaged in a sprint to the extreme left to win over his support for who can tax and spend more of Pennsylvanians hard-earned money.”

The statement made clear who Corbett sees as the front runner.

“Congresswoman Schwartz and all of the Democratic candidates continue to prove they are too extreme, fighting for their party’s liberal special interests over the people of Pennsylvania.

28 Responses

  1. Unsanctioned R-

    You are seriously delusional if you think you’ve accomplished anything here except being exposed as a fool.

    There are going to be about a million Dem voters in the May primary picking our nominee. There will be about 3.5 million voting in November.

    Nothing you have said or done will make an impact on a single one of them, nor will any of them have any memory of your anonymous posts today.

    You are probably the only one here simple-minded enough to believe the nonsense Unsanctioned is writing that he doesn’t even believe himself.

    BTW, this thread should read page #2 of the PoliticsPA website tomorrow before I even wake up, so I won’t bother following it past then.

    If you two want to verbally pleasure each other after that, go right ahead, as you’ll have plenty of privacy.

  2. I’ve seen this spastic response before–the death throes of a liberal witnessing his own coup de grace.

    Hey David, since you brought up moms, Yo mama is the only one who thinks you won this debate. c-ya.

  3. Look David, nobody ever thought you would be an agent of change. Now, when the phone calls come, they’ll have you to thank for it. Finally, you’re accomplishing something in a statewide election! Congrats!

  4. Unsanctioned R-

    YOU have already set “things in motion”? An anonymous poster repeating pre-existing bottom scrapping talking points that everyone has been expecting from Corbett’s supporters because he has to distract everyone from his record as the least popular Gov in PA history? That’s your imagined claim to fame?

    That’s pretty delusional, consider how you got your butt kicked on a blog.

    It seems pretty obvious that you must be a big disappointment to your mom and have a subconscious fear of being retroactively aborted. I’d say “irrational fear”, but it’s probably something that your mom looked into.

    The next Governor of PA is going to be strongly pro-choice and undo the repressive restrictions Corbett had placed on women’s health and reproductive rights. (As well as undo the cuts to education, bridge inspection/repair, and environmental protections.)

    Corbett has demonstrated how much his brand of politics and ideology can hurt the state. He’s not going to be able to beat the Dem nominee.

  5. Be that as it may.
    I’ve already set things in motion. She should just deny it and risk a former patient outing her as a bold-faced liar. Otherwise it’ll snowball, I promise.

  6. Unsanctioned R-

    How’s this:
    “Despite no evidence or hint of connection between Blackwell Health Center and Gosnell, Republicans have attempted to link the two in an effort to smear Schwartz, who was once a director of Blackwell 25 years ago. Blackwell has even issued an official statement denying a connection. The GOP continues to hound Schwartz who has refused to dignify their questions with an answer.
    Are you more interested in a governor who want to fix PA’s problem or one who is more interested in rumor and innuendo?”

  7. Sorry David, but you’re wrong.
    Tell you what, you and this thread have got me so juiced that unless the Congresswoman issues a direct denial to this very germane and straightforward question, I will volunteer to do the poll.

    Maybe PoliticsPA’s next reader survey should ask committeepeople:
    “Allyson Schwartz has so far issued no comment when asked whether the women’s health clinic she directed referred any women to Kermit Gosnell. Does not hearing from her on this issue before the primary make you more likely or less likely to support her as a gubernatorial nominee?”

  8. ProLifer-
    You are absolutely full of sh*t.

    If she answered “No”, then the next question would be: “How can you be sure?” followed by “Can we see the records” and “Did you refer patients to any other doctors besides Gosnell”.

    Because that’s the same line of questioning after Blackwell issued its denial.

  9. No David, your analogy is not the same at all. We would all be very satisfied if she just answered, “No.” None of your contorted explanations thus far make more sense than the answer is simply, “Yes.”

  10. ProLifer-
    It’s a question without basis, like asking “Have you stopped beating your wife?” or asking someone if they’ve cheated on their spouse without any foundation.

    Sounds like she refused to dignify the question with an answer. It’s pretty clear that if she just said “No”, that you still wouldn’t be satisfied anyway.

  11. “Did you refer to Gosnell?”
    No comment.
    That’s all fact. She can make it go away with a simple on the record denial. The timing is up to her, but she will be publicly asked again.
    What’s wrong with letting voters know she can’t answer a high-profile question that’s been asked of her for months?

  12. Joe-
    Are you okay with paying for Viagra?

    But, your economic point is simply idiotic, as you would be paying insurance for hospitalization for women who actually do get pregnant and have kids. It’s far cheaper to provide contraception than maternity care.

    Also, it’s the women who don’t use birth control who have “consequences”. Using inexpensive birth control prevents the expensive consequences that increase insurance rates. There are plenty of married woman, who wish to have sex, but do not wish to get pregnant.

  13. ProLifer-
    Actually, she can say “we never referred to Gosnell”, as that’s the official position of Blackwell. Short of any evidence that they did refer to Gosnell, the GOP is just planning to engage in smear (aka push polls) because they can’t win on issues and facts.

    Corbett is terrible and voters are worried about kids that actually exist having an education and a future.

  14. All of this talk about “Women’s reproductive rights” is just so pathetic. Pay for your own birth control pills, condoms, and abortions. You are responsible for your own actions, and in the guise of equal justice, that applies to women too! No woman has any right to my tax dollars to pay for the consequences of her actions (we all know what I’m implying). Keep it legal but pay for it yourself.

  15. The bottom line is that Schwartz cannot simply say “we never referred to Gosnell,” and that speaks volumes. Everyone else gets it. She enabled the gruesome dismemberment of babies in the birth canal. There’s consequences for that. The least of which is a push poll.

  16. I congratulate the organizations and individuals that put together yesterday’s forum. It was very organized and the questions were terrific. We need more of these across the state. I thought McCord, Pawlowski, Schwartz, Wolf and McGinty did very well yesterday. Each draw on their areas of experience and laid out their vision for PA if they were governor.

    Soon we will see the final $ numbers and it will hopefully force a few to drop out. We need to shrink the field quickly. Hanger, Myers and Litz will be the first to go because they can’t compete in any serious fashion. Pawlowski will probably be next and I think McGinty should drop as well. Even though she raised $2.4 million I don’t think she will have enough cash on hand to seriously compete. It will be left to Wolf, McCord and Schwartz battling it out towards the primary. Between those 3 I see the real fight being between Wolf and Schwartz. They are much better at discussing the issues and laying out detailed plans on how to address them. McCord hasn’t done this yet and his issue page on his website is pretty lacking in my opinion. I’ve seen city council candidates with more details.

  17. ProLifer-
    1) They specifically did say that they didn’t refer to Gosnell. What they didn’t respond to was a request for explanation of how they knew. (Which either would entail private records of each patient or records that no longer existed, since the request was made for records going back to 1972.)

    2) I’ve read about the procedure. If it is performed by a competent medical doctor at the woman’s request, it’s her business and not yours. I wouldn’t encourage the practice, but I acknowledge the woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body.

    3) Her setting the policy is not the same as her making actual referrals. The official statement from Blackwell was that “We have never referred to Gosnell”. The pro-life crowd is clearly on a fishing expedition to see if referrals were made to other clinics and create linkage to Gosnell, who is not representative of the medical profession nor abortion providers.

    4) They’ve already stated that they didn’t refer to him. I was making the point that his medical abuses were unknown at the time in question. Possibly, he didn’t even start cutting corners until later in his career and just got bolder as time went on. If there were abuses in that time-frame, they probably would have been revealed during his trial.

    The bottom line is that abortions are legal in this country, and Blackwell provided legal health services to women. The Dems aren’t going to restrict women’s reproductive rights. If the GOP wants to run against women’s rights and the protections of Roe v Wade, they can on the issue without making false and unrelated connections to a criminal like Gosnell.

    (but of course the GOP can’t engage in honest debate, so they’ll resort to smear tactics)

  18. David:
    1) Blackwell’s policy is to refer out all abortions past the first trimester. I believe that was the same policy Schwartz employed while director there. Asked specifically if they referred to Gosnell and she refuses to answer.

    2) “I don’t have a problem with late term abortions.” Really, you don’t have a problem with those techniques? How much do you really know about them? Speaks volumes about principles.

    3) As director, Schwartz sets the policy about referrals. She’s responsible for all of them. People understand that. This is not some massive outfit.

    4) “The first reported complaint against Gosnell is from after Schwartz had left Blackwell.” Why not just own up to when they sent women to him while he was a good doctor then?

  19. I was there yesterday it was a good debate now i can see why Schwartz is the front runner on the issues she is head and shoulders above the rest.the others who stood out mccord and mcginty are very comfortable on stage mccord has a problem with name recognition 7 years state treasure he should be front runner easily.all he did was bash for mcginty she may not win in may but i could see myself voting for her

  20. rocks-
    Let’s hope your pants are on while you are posting to PoliticsPA. …No comment necessary.

    Pawlowski might handle himself well in a debate (not to be confused with the self-handling that rocks is fixated upon).
    However, his record in Allentown has plenty of vocal critics. His handling of the water issue and controversies over waste disposal plant are the tip of the iceberg. Good government advocates fighting for transparency oppose how Pawlowski does business in Allentown. He’s fairly unpopular. For his 2013 reelection, he managed to get himself on both the Dem and Rep ballots. Yet, despite that advantage, incumbency and a ton of money, his underfunded, Independent opponent managed to get 40% of the vote. While he was elected, it was a shocking moral defeat that highlighted his lack support.

  21. Jo Ellen Litz and Max Myers wonder why they were not invited to that recent debate. “Pass” is not an answer”. “I’m not answering” is not an answer. Even if you do not agree with the base, be honest. It will be interesting if either can actually get on the ballot.

    While it is hard to say if McGinty was vague having not been at the debate, I still do not like the sounds of her responses. I want to hear honesty and not beat around the bush.

  22. This is such a biased article! I was there! Even though he is not a frontrunner, Ed Pawlowski debated amazingly, with Allyson giving him a run for his money but they just write him off on here like a loony. But Jo Ellen Litz was hysterical so that is correct.

  23. rock head-
    1) There is no evidence or indication that Blackwell referred any late-term abortions to Gosnell. Blackwell has specifically denied such allegations, in writing.
    You may as well accuse the taxis drivers of making referrals to Gosnell.

    2) I don’t have a problem with late term abortions. However, the problem with Gosnell was the sub-standard level of medical care he provided. He was so bad that he could have been performing tonsillectomies and killing patients. He is not representative of the medical profession, let alone abortion doctors.

    3) As director, Schwartz would not have seen patients nor made referrals. (I feel I need to repeat this one as you were too thick to understand it the first time.)

    4) The first reported complaint against Gosnell is from 1989 (for lack of nurses in recovery room) when he was cited by the PA Dept of Health. This was after Schwartz had left Blackwell.

    Basically, linking Blackwell and Gosnell is just a smear by right-wingers looking to attack legitimate abortions and unrelated women’s services affiliated with Planned Parenthood and any politicians who support such rights.

    This is a vulnerable area for Schwartz, but only because there are a lot of idiots who would believe the distortions and false connections. Even worse, there are those so shallow as to propagate such myths.

  24. David, they referred out the late-term abortions. I’m surprised you didn’t know that, but I’m not surprised you would stoop so low as to defend the vacuuming out of babies brains.

    The reason Schwartz isn’t aware of unsatisfied customers is that those women were buried by Gosnell.

  25. the rock (in the head)-
    The answer to your question would be zero.

    Schwartz wouldn’t have met with patients nor made referrals. Also, since Blackwell offered a full range of services, why would they send patients elsewhere?

    But, thanks for showing how low the GOP would stoop in attacking Schwartz.

  26. “How many women did you refer to the nearest provider…the Gosnell House of Horrors down the road?”

  27. “The statement made clear who Corbett sees as the front runner.”

    Umm #1 .. whom not who

    Umm #2… or more likely … whom Corbett prefers as the front runner.

    Because, why would Corbett add to the name recognition of ANY Dem candidate unless he felt it helped him?

    Rob’s performances have been consistent in every public forum. He’s clearly the smoothest and most comfortable in these kinds of venues.

    Hanger continues to appeal to the base.

    I’m glad Schwartz has an “answer” to the expected abortion attack. However, while that answer addresses issues pro-choice Dems would agree with, it’s not going to sit well with conservatives (Dem and Rep) in a general election. It doesn’t even sound like Myers, Litz or Pawlowski would vote for her in a general election due to this issue.

    I don’t think a Dem can win the primary without strongly supporting gay marriage as part of their platform, as it is a key difference with the GOP and the direction the arrow of history is pointing. With the assault on women’s reproductive rights from the GOP, this is another issue where the Democratic party (particularly primary) voters are going to be supporting pro-choice candidates.

    Failing to support these two key issues is political and financial suicide in a Dem primary.

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