Candidates square off in debate
Voters in Pennsylvania’s 21st Senatorial District had a chance to hear from their candidates on Thursday night.
The League of Women Voters held a debate Thursday night that was streamed by exploreclarion.com and featured incumbent Republican Scott Hutchinson and Democratic challenger Shelbie Stromyer.
The district includes all of Warren County except the four municipalities on the western edge which are part of the 50th Senate District.
Here’s a look at what the candidates were asked and how they responded.
Hutchinson said he offers a “clear choice” of someone with rural values and said he has “strongly and consistently” represented those priorities. Stromyer said she’s been a registered nurse for 31 years and pointed out she is not a politician by trade. She cited her signature on a rural bill of rights and suggested that Harrisburg is forgetting about rural Pennsylvania.
¯ What reforms would you support to reduce partisanship and polarization in the state legislature?
Hutchinson blamed partisanship “that has come from our state-wide judicial boards,” calling for the removal of partisanship from the judiciary. He cited a proposed Constitutional amendment that would create judicial districts – seven across the state – from which one of the Supreme Court justices would come. Stromyer called for term limits on politicians and equal party representation at the committee level. She pointed out that the General Assembly has been “controlled” by Republicans all but one term since 1993 and argued it’s impossible to have bipartisanship without fair votes in committee.COVID-19 has impacted the most vulnerable and especially people of color at higher rates. How can that system be repaired?
“It went out of whack when we stopped wearing the mask,” Stromyer said, arguing that people died because of staffing shortages. “We need to take a step back and take the political aspect out of this,” she said, and treat it as a health issue. Hutchinson credited people who “stepped up” during the pandemic and said he would argue for “targeting the resources we have” to nursing homes and assisted living facilities that were the “real critical population.” He attacked the governor and the Department of Health for not taking “that as seriously as they should have.” He also advocated for a regional response to COVID-19 as the “state is not a one-size-fits-all-state.”
¯ Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Stroymer said she does, specifically highlighting children with seizures for which marijuana will provide relief. “It will stop it without side effects,” she said, noting kids might still have some “munchies.” She also cited the potential for revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana. Hutchinson said that “tax revenue should never be based on bad public policy” and cited several issues with the proposal. “For so many reasons I am very much against recreational marijuana being legalized here in Pennsylvania.”
¯ What proposals would they support to improve voting infrastructure?
Hutchinson said that “part of the problem we’ve had (is the) Department of State is trying to run everything out of Harrisburg and that is not the best way,” leaving the counties to manage elections. He said he finds mail-in ballot drop boxes “problematic” but said he is pleased that Pennsylvanians now case paper ballots. Stromyer said mail-in voting is good for young families who work and Hutchinson agreed that during the pandemic the “expanded mail-in option is a good thing.”
¯ How can post-secondary education options be improved?
Stromyer cited the Pennsylvania Promise program, which aims to provide funding for students in need. “We have to start doing something,” she said, to address the affordability issue. Hutchinson said he believes the state school system should receive the focus for state funding. “(I) do think our state system schools have to look very hard at the middle level of their bureaucracy to make sure we’re not wasting money on those folks,” he said. He also encouraged the state schools to not “be all things to everybody” and try to find a niche.
¯ How can broadband access be improved in rural areas?
Hutchinson said he serves on a committee in the Senate that seeks to address this issue. “We have been trying to establish a fund to help communities develop broadband. It would take local buy-in.” He said rural electric cooperatives are “uniquely qualified and positioned” to bring broadband access to the rural areas but said restrictions need to be removed in order to make it happen. He also spoke about the need for local elected officials and economic development entities to “find the solutions that will work in their communities.” Stromyer said broadband is part of the rural bill of rights she is fighting for and said no new business growth will be seen without it. “Rural Pennsylvania can’t survive without it,” she said.
¯ Do you support legislation that would prohibit gifts being provided to legislators?
“Yes. Too many legislators have too much money and too little transparency,” Stromyer said. “We cannot go on like this. The public doesn’t trust our government anymore.” Hutchinson said he supports a limit but said he has not received any reportable gifts in his eight years in the Senate. “(I) don’t accept large trips, large gifts and the proof is in the pudding.”
¯ What should the state do to address the emergency medical services crisis?
Hutchinson said this has been “one of the top priorities I have had since going to the legislature and said a large number of bills – Senate Resolution 6 – have been put forward as the state’s response. He said he’s argued for an independent fire commissioner and “better funded fire commissioner’s office” so the commissioner can advocate more directly with the governor. He said a state grant program was doubled with CARES Act funding but acknowledged solving the problem will “require tough decisions in the community.” Stromyer noted that Forest County is entirely volunteer for EMS. “They deserve better,” she said. “Forest County is in the middle of nowhere,” noting that residents there have to go to Venango County, Clarion or Warren to a hospital. “We have the right to have emergency medical services, knowing that if we need it, it’s there.”
¯ How can we be sure that judicial districts outlined under a proposed Constitutional amendment won’t be gerrymandered?
“You can’t,” Stromyer said, noting that so much gerrymandering has been done that “people aren’t sure what counties they live in anymore.” Hutchinson said the lines can be drawn fairly and the democratic process be preserved in electing judges. He said he would advocate that counties and municipalities be split no more than necessary. He said this plan would take power from the big counties and distribute it as most of the judges are from the state’s biggest counties.
¯ If Roe v. Wade were overturned, what measures would you support in the state regarding abortion access and reproductive rights?
Hutchinson said he would “never apologize” for his defense of the unborn. “If there are ways for the state to reduce the number of abortions, I vote for it every single time.” He said any pregnancy viable outside of the mother’s womb should not be aborted. Stromyer said it is “one thing to be pro-birth. What happens after these children are born?” She said this issue is “not a one or all…. You have to look at the whole picture.” During the pandemic, she claimed that people are starving and said that during the first trimester “that’s a blood clot. It’s not a baby.” Hutchinson called that comment “demeaning” and said he supports the work of crisis pregnancy centers.
¯ Would you support an increase in the minimum wage?
Stromyer said she would and detailed the challenges of living on $10 per hour. She said lower minimum wage here could result in people moving to other states with higher rates. Hutchinson said minimum wage should be a federal issue but cited a study that showed an increase to the rates around Pennsylvania would destroy 40,000 jobs here. “Those are people who are just entering the workforce,” he said, noting that the minimum wage was not supposed to be a wage to raise a family on in the first place.
¯ Would you support a severance tax for Marcellus Shale development?
Hutchinson, in not supporting a severance tax, said Pennsylvania is the only state with an impact tax and highlighted that a large portion of that revenue goes back to the communities where the wells are drilled. He noted that these companies also pay all other taxes any other business would pay. “Our fossil fuels are making us sick and they’re allowed to do it,” Stromyer said, claiming that Pennsylvania has become a “dumping state.”