Despite treacherous road conditions, nearly 500 residents packed into McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University, on Sun., Jan. 26, to hear from the eight Democrats hoping to unseat Gov. Tom Corbett in November. The candidates are: John Hanger, former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; Jo Ellen Litz, Lebanon County commissioner; Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord; Katie McGinty, another former DEP head; Max Myers, a businessman and minister; Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski; U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz; and Thomas Wolf, businessman and former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.
The event, sponsored by various East End Democratic clubs, featured a wide range of topics in a series of one-minute answers from the candidates. City Paper plans to delve more deeply into specific issues in the weeks leading up to the primary, but in the meantime, here are five quick things we learned on Sunday.
The race offers degrees of progressiveness
In some past primaries, voters have been left without a good progressive option. This year there are as many as six candidates who have at least progressive leanings. Five of the eight Democrats — Hanger, McCord, McGinty, Schwartz and Wolf — are pro-choice and support same-sex marriage. Pawlowski supports same-sex marriage and says he's "in the middle" on choice because while he is pro-life, he also supports women's health issues.
Marijuana legalization and decriminalization are not the same thing, despite what some candidates may want you to believe
Hanger came out of the gate early in favor of legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana ... even as other candidates were still figuring out what to say. With the exception of Litz, the other candidates said they favor decriminalization of marijuana (removing criminal penalties for possession) and legalization of limited medical marijuana. (Litz wrongly asserted that narcotics are regulated by the FCC — the Federal Communication Commission.) McCord said further study of other states was warranted, and he likely favored eventual legalization. But Hanger told CP afterward that voters shouldn't be fooled. "I'll take credit for dragging them into this issue," Hanger says. "They've all gone from not talking about it at all and being opposed, to now favoring medical marijuana and decriminalization. I'm still the only candidate willing to legalize and tax marijuana, and talk about the race issue that is endemic to this whole issue."
Regardless of who wins, we're likely to keep getting fracked
There were several fracktivists on hand Sunday and most likely left somewhat disappointed. All of the candidates are against fracking on public lands; and all say Corbett has allowed drilling companies to run amok, and if elected, they would make sure the processes are safer and more highly taxed. But only Myers said he would institute a moratorium on all fracking.
Regardless of who wins, UPMC is in deep SHIT
The candidates were asked if the UPMC/Highmark dispute deserved Harrisburg's attention — and none of the Democrats appeared happy with the state's largest non-governmental employer. Among the highlights, McCord called it "an ugly fight that requires leadership" and said that UPMC was "generating an army of poor people who are working full time." Schwartz says it's "quite remarkable that UPMC has made an insurer [Highmark] look as good as it does." And McGinty emphatically urged UPMC to "stop ... interfering with the constitutional right of workers to organize and collectively bargain."
Presque Isle is in Pittsburgh?
It was a rough day for Litz, who got groans from the crowd when she "passed" on questions regarding abortion rights and same-sex marriage. But her worst moment came when the candidates were asked about their favorite spot in Pittsburgh: She fondly recalled the beaches of Presque Isle — which is in Erie.