Yesterday evening, a candidates’ forum was held at PSU Abington for all four candidates running to fill Allyson Schwartz’s 13th Congressional seat. The always adept interviewer, Dave Davies of WHYY, served as moderator for the evening, and the auditorium was packed, in the knowledge that Former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies would be in attendance for the first time during the entire campaign.
Questions ranged from education, social security, women’s rights, healthcare policy, economic issues, foreign policy, immigration, gun policy, and the recent SCOTUS decision: McCutcheon v FEC. As Davies noted in the beginning, he held the amazingly entertaining right to pause throughout the forum to ask a specially prepared set of questions to individual candidates, based on their perceived weakness(es) in recent news coverage.
Although there were many memorable exchanges, Davies pushed the envelope during this section, to see if candidates had what it takes to hold this position. By spreading this section throughout the evening, candidates did not have the chance to brace themselves for the toughest questions of the night, so audience members received real answers to these questions, a rare feat in political discourse.
In this first section, as a knowledgeable education advocate I can say with likely agreement from anyone who watched the footage that this was a close tie between Senator Leach and Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, maybe with Senator Leach edging out his competition slightly by listing what he has already done for state public education policy. Leach cited his personal fight against charter school and school voucher legislation that would have defunded traditional public schools, had it passed. Students First and other organizations plastered literature in his district during the 2012 senatorial election, but he endured their vehemence to stop this legislation. Leach also cited his prime sponsorship of the most progressive college student loan bill in the country, modeled to decrease student debt drastically.
Arkoosh indicated to me as an education advocate that she clearly had a breadth of knowledge on the subject, citing the impact of sequestration cuts on teachers, the disaster that has been our obsession over standardized tests, our lack of quality early childhood education programs, and the high interest rates that plate college students. The one tip I would give her for the rest of the campaign is to study up on issues facing ELL students and special education students, not only in their funding but also in terms of standardized testing mandates, and how that impacts local school districts. Whoever wins this race needs to understand these things and become an expert.
I braced myself for State Representative Brendan Boyle’s answers to education questions, as he and I certainly don’t see eye to eye. He chose a smooth maneuver, choosing to discuss higher education and early childhood education, rather than discuss the K through 12 charter school and voucher policies his campaign is funded to support in the State House. Maybe it fooled some audience members, but it didn’t fool me. If I were him, I’d come up with a good answer of why people shouldn’t be angry for him because of some of his votes to defund public schools for unproven, non-public programs. The ramifications of federal education policies on our Commonwealth are serious, and I worry about his positions.
The audience braced themselves for Marjorie Margolies’ first debate answer. Her voice throughout the evening was almost inaudible, giving out completely from sentence to sentence. Unfortunately for the audience, her answers lacked as much substance as her physical voice lacked volume; she started every answer with “I agree with ___ on _____.” Then she referred to her note cards for the rest, only giving bullet point answers rather than concise responses indicating her knowledge on subjects. She said she was opposed to privatization, supports universal pre-K, and wants to make college more affordable, but had nothing else to say, yielding the rest of her time.
Daylin Leach’s Surprise Question – Bipartisanship
Dave Davies pushed Leach for an answer as to why the “liberal lion” would have the skill set to be bipartisan in Congress when the moment called for it. Leach cited a slew of bills he has already proposed or passed, including one for ovarian and breast cancer screenings, a bill that provides incentives for corporations to be good citizens, the ban of shackling of pregnant prisoners during labor, and his medical marijuana bill, which is cosponsored by Senator Folmer. He also paused to say that though bipartisanship is important, sometimes political leaders need to pick opportunities to fight: on the right to vote, LGBT rights, reproductive rights, to name a few.
Boyle answered first, stating that a lift on the FICA tax cap would bring forth enough revenue to take Social Security to the year 2100 as a federal program. I’d be interested to know where he got that information (not because I don’t believe it, just to know). If it is accurate, it indicates how entrenched our Congress is and how loyal they are to special interests and the rich over programs that are critical to a sustainable economic future.
Leach took a targeted swipe at Margolies, saying that he did not think her position of asking the rich to voluntarily contribute more to the Social Security Fund was a realistic proposition. He agreed with Boyle that the FICA tax cap needed to be lifted, and then he added his agreement with Elizabeth Warren’s model of providing an early lump sum payment. This would allow new retirees to pay off any larger bills and then settle into a lifestyle that fits the budget of their regular benefit payments.
Margolies shocked the audience by disagreeing with Margolies of Christmas Past; she said she does not agree with raising the retirement age or having a benefit cap, and she would raise the FICA tax cap to $500k.
Arkoosh came out strongest on this issue despite basically agreeing with the other three candidates, toting her endorsement from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicaire.
Brendan Boyle’s Surprise Question – Abortion Rights (and Act 122)
Davies made his surprise question of Boyle about reproductive rights, discussing Act 122, the law I’ve written about heavily over the past few weeks at Keystone Politics. Legislative supporters of Act 122 allege that it makes women safer, especially in the wake of all the horrors we know happened at Kermit Gosnell’s clinic. What the law did in fact do is force the closure of five women’s clinics, making it even harder for women in Central Pennsylvania to gain access to abortion services (or the many other non-termination services provided at these clinics typically).
Boyle said that he fully supports Roe v. Wade and does not want to make criminals out of women, but thanks to a bill he supported, Jennifer Whalen may face fifteen years in prison for helping her 16 year old daughter get the abortion pill, after no clinics could be found in their area. Boyle cited his halfway decent Planned Parenthood score, of 12/14 votes cast in favor of Planned Parenthood positions. I think I speak for many women when I say that I don’t consult Planned Parenthood’s legislative score when I’m looking for a doctor, and any assault on my reproductive rights is just that, whether Planned Parenthood agrees or not. Boyle has yet to explain to anyone how Act 122 makes any woman safer, and if he wants to prevent the horrors of Gosnell, he should fight for abortion insurance coverage within the Pennsylvania ACA exchanges and strengthen buffer zone laws for female patients.
Go to Part 2. >>