Gubernatorial Forum at Gershman Y

— by John Oliver Mason

Candidates for Governor of Pennsylvania were asked questions as a community forum held in the Elaine C. Levitt Auditorium of the Gershman Y on Sunday, March 23, 2014. The participants were:

Governor Tom Corbett and Democratic candidate Tom Wolff were invited but did not attend.

Synopsis after the jump.
Introductions

Gloria Gilman, Chair of Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks and Co-Coordinator of the Philadelphia Council of MoveOn, greeted the audience, saying,    

The coalition’s goal is to help educate voters (about) the upcoming primary, to be held May 20th-remember that date-and to recognize the importance of the role the Governor (of Pennsylvania) plays in our lives. We came together to look at the issues upon which the governor has influence that effect the grassroots of this city. We’re posing questions on issues that really matter to us, in which the candidates have not necessarily committed to their positions, or where we think it might be possible to differentiate their perspectives.

Tracy Gordon, Deputy City Commissioner of Philadelphia, spoke of a new effort of the City Commissioners’ office (which oversees voting in the city) for assuring voter turnout in the May primary.  Gordon read a letter from City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who was in Harrisburg at the time:

While many Philadelphians vote in presidential elections, many fewer vote in midterm elections. This low turnout has far-reaching consequences. One in every eight registered voters in Pennsylvania (live in) Philadelphia. But candidates for statewide office spend less than one-eighth of their time campaigning in Philadelphia. They favor the counties with higher voter turnout, and who can blame them?

The result is statewide officials, such as governors, who don’t understand us or respond to our needs as well as they would if (voters) turned out to vote in large numbers…Every vote you cast is a vote not only for a candidate, but also for your neighborhood, and for your demographic group. Every vote you cast supports the work of local leaders who represent you. Every vote you cast  makes Philadelphia strong.

Gordon displayed a new handbook from Singer’s office for voters with questions about election procedures, and she directed voters to Singer’s office’s new website for more information. The book, said Gordon, explained how to vote by absentee ballot, how to write in a vote, and deadlines for registering to vote.

The moderators for the forum were Daniel Denvir, writer for Philadelphia City Paper, and Holly Otterbein, correspondent for WHYY-FM. “The gubernatorial election is in November,” started Denvir, “and there’s a lot at stake for our schools, the environment, and the welfare of our city’s people.” Otterbein described the format of the forum, saying, “We’re going to give each candidate one minute and thirty seconds to respond to each question.” The candidates gave brief introductory statements.

On Pennsylvania’s Refusal to Expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act

On health insurance, Otterbein said that Pennsylvania has not expanded its Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act; Governor Corbett has asked for federal funds to pay for private coverage for residents.

Katie McGinty said,

You always have to look at a person’s track record… This is a governor who, as attorney general, fought tooth and nail to stop the availability of health care coverage. He’s not changed his stripes. This is a governor who has presided over ninety-seven thousand people being dropped from our health care and medical assistance rolls.

McGinty said the Corbett plan was a “voucher-izing” of  Medicaid, which means

there would be fewer people covered, it will cost more, and coverage will be less effective…We want to expand Medicaid, we want to say yes to the forty-billion dollars that should come to Pennsylvania as five hundred thousand people get that health care.

Allyson Schwartz said that the Medicaid plan the Corbett administration submitted to the federal government

creates obstacles, reduces benefits, and it hurts people who are on Medicaid or should be…As governor, one of the first things I would do is accept that Medicaid money…and we use it for our Pennsylvania residents.

Jack Wagner said,

I oppose Governor Corbett’s proposal, and I believe we need to (enroll) the five hundred thousand Pennsylvanians that need better health care…Even the very conservative governors across the country have adopted this proposal. It is federal tax dollars, that all of you have paid to the federal government, that will finance this proposal one hundred percent for several years…We are denying our own resources coming back to serve our own people.

Rob McCord called the governor’s health care proposal

immoral and inefficient… We’re depriving five hundred thousand people of coverage that’s already been paid for, with your taxpayer dollars…Medicaid is more efficient, not less efficient, than the short-term-oriented-profit-maximalizing firms in providing care to those who are currently not covered.

On Pennsylvania’s Ban of Abortion Coverage under the Affordable Care Act

The next health question was about the Pennsylvania’s ban on abortion coverage in the health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. McCord said,

We need to make private, personal health care decisions that women and men make private. I’m as profoundly pro-choice as anybody in the country.” McCord called it “absurd that we are subsidizing the consumption of Viagra, and making it difficult for women to make their own procreative choices.

McGinty said she opposed such restrictions, adding,

I would aggressively and determinedly to overturn it.” The Corbett administration would suggest, she added, “that this is about taxpayer-funded abortions…This is about whether individuals, and women in particular, have the right to shop for and choose  the health care that is best for them. This is about private companies offering that health care that women want to choose and select.

Schwartz reminded the audience of her work in Congress

during the whole debate on the Affordable Care Act to make sure that women have access to the full range of reproductive health services that we need to use…Many of you know I am not new to this issue,

and she mentioned her work in establishing the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center in Philadelphia.

Wagner said,

I believe that a woman should have access to safe health care under the law…But I will be very frank with everyone, I’m a pro-life Democrat, I believe that a woman should have access to abortion for rape, incest, and (to save) the life of the mother.

On Restoring the State’s Social Safety Net

Daniel Denvir asked questions about taxes and economic issues. Denvir pointed out cuts to poor people in state cash assistance, and cuts by Congress in the Food Stamp program; he asked if elected governor, would they reinstate these programs, and what would they do to strengthen the state’s social safety net.

McGinty said this approach was “wrong headed, (and) as the leader of the Commonwealth you want to lift people up and give them the ability to prosper, and this has been the opposite direction.” She called the cuts in Food Stamps “terribly wrong, and I would have opposed them,” and the federal Food Stamp cuts came along with the governor cutting state food assistance, adding “those dollars need to be restored.” McGinty added that Pennsylvania is fourth in the country in states with a long-term unemployed population.; with “job training, apprenticeships, job assistance, I will invest in people.”

Schwartz spoke of her time in the Pennsylvania Senate when Governor Tom Ridge cut people from general assistance; “It’s been going on for a while,” she said, “and I opposed those cuts…it hurt a lot of people, and it made it harder for them to be successful.” Noting her work in the Senate to extend long-term unemployment, “To make sure people can get back on their feet,” Schwartz added, “we do need to make sure that people can support them selves and their families, and that they have support during tough times.”

Wagner said,

Food assistance is as basic and as important as any (other social) program…As Auditor-General I looked at a wide variety of programs within (the welfare system), and quite frankly fraud, waste and abuse exist. But we never found that in the food assistance program,” which he called “one in which we should strongly support. We can actually save money in certain programs if we do a good job managing it, and provide more of those resources that we save into food assistance.

McCord said, “Yes, of course, I will restore general assistance for those who need it…This is really personal for me,” and he recalled his mother attending college and graduate school, and said, “I never would have thought, looking back at that beginning, that she would ever suffer from economic insecurity, but she did, and that motivates me.” Noting that “good, hard-working people often touch the edge of poverty,” McCord said, “It’s important not to blame the victim.”  

The forum was organized by Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks and the Philadelphia Council of MoveOn.org. Several groups in coalition co-sponsored the event, including the Jewish Labor Committee, AFSCME District Council 47, the AIDS Law Project, Americans for Democratic Action, the Arab-American Community Development Corporation, Ceasefire PA, Coalition of Labor Union Women Philadelphia Chapter, Bread and Roses Community Fund, Decarcerate PA, Education Voters of PA, Friends of Farmworkers, National Lawyers Guild, Liberty City Democratic Club, Media Mobilizing Project, Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus, Philadelphia Jobs With Justice, PhillyCAM, and others. These sponsoring organizations submitted questions for the candidates to be asked.

Gubernatorial Candidates Face-Off


Forum starts at 18:00. Please skip first 18 minutes of video.

On November 21, 2013 Philly Speaks Out held a forum at Temple University for gubernatorial candidates.  Candidates attending:

Pennsylvania Governor Jon Corbett was invited to join the forum but did not respond to the invitation. The forum was a non-partisan event, not a debate.

The moderator was Rev. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel AME Church — a founding member of POWER, one of the sponsoring organizations.

More after the jump.
In addition to POWER the event was sponsored by:  1199C/AFSCME, 32BJ SEIU, AFSCME DC 47, Action United, Fight for Philly, PA Working Families, PASNAP, PCAPS, and SEIU Healthcare PA

I did not attend in person but watched the webcast of the event. These are my rough notes from the forum. They not intended as a transcript. As always, I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions. Interested readers are encouraged to click on the candidates’ names above and visit their websites for further information on the candidates’ views and policies. A few personal observations are given at the end.

Rev. Mark Tyler introduced the candidates and instructed them to get right to the issues without taking time to thank the organizers. They had 3 minutes each to answer questions. (2 minutes for the final question.)

The forum covered four issues:

  1. Education.
  2. Retirement Security.
  3. Jobs.
  4. Health Care.

Each segment of the forum began with testimony from an audience member which was then framed with questions posed by the moderator Rev. Tyler. (See video.) The questions and candidate responses are outlined below.

First issue:  Education

Question:

  1. Reversing problems requires bold leadership and policy changes, “equitable” funding formula,
  2. increase revenue for public education and social services, cut corporate tax loopholes, drilling,
  3. charter school accountability,
  4. invest in schools not prisons, and
  5. abolish the School Reform Commission.

Will you support these items and what will your agenda be?

Schwartz: Pleased to be here, not pleased that Corbett is absent. Not a surprise; he has been absent on our values. Pennsylvania has great resources yet Corbett has led us to 49th place in job creation.  We cannot be a great state without leadership, vision, and a commitment to the state.  I have high goals, high expectations, and have always found a way to move forward.  We have to start with public education.  My mother was an immigrant.  She arrived here alone at age 16, and was sent to Philadelphia because the city had great public schools.  She graduated from Girls High and went to Temple but could not afford to finish.  My sons went to Central High School, a public school in Philadelphia.  As governor I would make public education a priority.  I would support your agenda, abolish the School Reform Commission, rein in charters, fair funding, pre-school and full-day kindergarten.  Invest in public education; invest in the future.

Wolf: I am from York County.  How can we allow this (references tweet from parent about no school librarian) to happen.  Tom Corbett has taken education off the front burner, off the stove.  I love learning, and have a PhD from MIT.  Daughters got a great education in York County.  We are all in this together.  Public education is a shared enterprise.  As governor if we are going to have a bright future we must have great schools.  We need fair and equitable funding, tax shale, universal Pre-K, charter accountability, good education equals good jobs, connect higher education with worlds of work.  As an employer I understand we must have an educated workforce.

McCord:   The most important thing for me to highlight is education, not just as policy but it is personal.  Think of a single parent who has a job but a bad job, mistreated by her employer but wants a good future for her kids — that is my mom’s story.  She went through a bad divorce when I was four.  I went from being a slow reader to a scholarship at Harvard.  Some have a poverty of purpose.  This is the #1 reason I am running.  Tom Corbett took $1 billion from the schools.  We need to review the funding system, fully fund higher education, repair the 529 plan, fund community colleges, allow unions to provide associates degrees, fully fund early childhood education.  Yield for decades.

Hanger:  Nothing wrong with public education but the governor is trying to privatize it.  I will stop this cold.  I arrived in the US at age 12 from Ireland.  Public schools prepared me.  We must attack poverty to prepare people for education.  As a law graduate I worked with low income families.  Start with charters, not preparing poor kids, stealing money from public education.  We need to shut down poorly performing charters, including almost all cyber charters.  It is an attack on unions to attack public schools.  I will abolish the School Reform Commission.  We need fair funding.  The real problem is the governor trying to privatize public schools.

McGinty:  One morning in September I was having coffee, reading the paper and saw the beautiful face of 12 year old LaPortia.  She died from asthma attack on a day when the school nurse wasn’t there.  She was the same age as one of my kids. This is not the best for our kids. Problem to solve.  Our kids deserve better. Put the spotlight on what is working. Pennsylvania is 4th in reading, 8th in math. Taking a wrecking ball to public education is not right. Put a tax in place to restore money to public education, fair formula, English language learning, property tax, reform charters so no double dipping. Start early Head Start, pre-day, full day kindergarten, small classes. Let teachers teach and students learn.

Second issue:  Retirement security.

Question: Pennsylvania has the fourth oldest population in the US.  There are fewer employer retirement plans.

  1. protecting pensions for public employees,
  2. retirement benefits available to all workers. California is offering plans all works can join. [blogger’s note, this is the Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program] Working Families plan.

Will you support these items and what will your agenda be?

McGinty: Yes I will support this. I am the 9th of 10 kids, dad was a Philadelphia police officer for 35 years. He died last year at 94, and never asked any of us for a penny. He had a pension.  No one gave him anything; he earned that pension. We must insist on these kinds of benefits, make retirement affordable, make health care affordable, can’t have property taxes go through the roof. The Commonwealth is not paying for public education, leaving it to be supported by property taxes.

Hanger: Anyone who has a pension has a legal guarantee that it will be paid. I will not let pension funds be raided. Many in the private sector are not organized or part of a union, and have no pension or retirement. As a legal services attorney I saw retired people living on social security. We need better jobs with higher income while working. Jobs don’t pay for bills today let alone retirement. Rich are getting a bigger piece; you are getting a smaller piece. Raise minimum wage, stand with unions, help people join unions, so we don’t have to choose between heat, food and medicine.

Schwartz: We need a Pennsylvania committed to hard work and achievement, that’s what built the great state we are. I hope to live to retire and reflect on a fulfilling job.  Retirement is under threat.  Pennsylvania does have one of the largest senior populations.  Social security and Medicare are under threat. In DC I have led the fight against privatizing social security.  Imagine if we invested in Wall Street in the recession. We have work to do and I will keep working towards that.  Need to meet our obligations to retirees.

McCord: If retirement and pensions are the issue I’m your guy.  No one in Pennsylvania has spent more time studying this than I have. Proud defender of defined benefit plans.  Unions defend defined benefits, not just for members but for all. Proud of how often I have fought back against Tom Corbett.  Defined benefits are more efficient that 401k’s. Defined contribution associations say otherwise.  We need to embrace the plan in California. It is a “pay me now or pay me later” world.  We can imitate the 529 plan. Retirement is a woman’s issue — women are three times more likely to drop into poverty in retirement. [He mentioned a woman in relation to the California plan but I can’t get the spelling right to find the correct person]

Wolf: I’m an FDR Democrat. We do not have a pension problem. This is something we share. In my company I work to make sure employees [missed this]. Lottery is part of the Department of Revenue, $1 million goes to help the elderly. I worked to improve the lottery.  It went to property tax rebates, prescription drugs.  We need to protect public pensions. Overall compensation issue. If we want good public employees we must compete with the private sector. Health care. I have a 90 year old mom and 91 year old dad. We need to ensure all is done to see that all Pennsylvanians have retirement.

Third issue:  Jobs

Question: Good jobs, raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, like slaves asking Pharaoh for straw to make bricks. End payday lending. Guaranteed sick days. All people receiving tax money must pay workers (including subcontractors) a living wage.  Shift from corporate benefits to public education

McCord:  Everything in the governor’s race relates to jobs.  If we end defined benefits we lose as 90% of that money is spent in Pennsylvania.  Of course we need to increase the minimum wage, increases the wealth of the middle class, need sick days, that an efficient thing to do, protect prevailing wage.  We can trust safety and quality of well-trained Pennsylvania workers paid prevailing wage.  End payday loans.  Everything is about true economic security.  Reasonable wage.  Good benefits.  Protected workplace.

Schwartz:  If we want to build a prosperous economy in Pennsylvania, steel, railroads, hard work and innovations, new cures the envy of the world.  Unions spread wages to workers, building industry, prosperity, innovation.  Rebuild Pennsylvania economy, rebuild and re-grow middle class, cannot succeed without a middle class.  Increase minimum wage, fair pay for women, prevailing wages, sick leave, use carrot and stick.  If public money is given to corporations we must push them to pay fair wages and benefits.  Use all natural resource to benefit all, use money for education, grow economic opportunities across the state.

McGinty:  Jobs.  I’m here to apply for a job.  As Secretary of Environmental Protection I wanted to create new good jobs.  We need clean energy and environment.  Let’s bring these jobs.  We were #1 in bringing solar and wind jobs, good jobs, pay, benefits.   Choosing between the environment and jobs is a false choice, as is saying wanting a good job risks your current job.  To grow the economy we have to put money in people’s pockets.  Living wage.  Increase minimum wage, index it to inflation.  Right to organize.  Invest in the US.  Job training and skills development programs.  These were cut and we need to restore them.  Families need to be able to afford education.  Colleges need to keep costs under control.  Public projects – jobs going to Pennsylvanians.

Wolf:  I’ve created good jobs.  Only PhD forklift operator in York County.  Bought my company, build it into one of the biggest in its field in the country.  Distributed 20 – 30% annually in profits to employees.  Sick days, living wages.  First thing we have to do is invest in education.  We need an educated workforce.  Recognize we can compete, even in manufacturing.  We can compete on price and quality.

Hanger:  More jobs and better jobs need community organization.  If we want paid sick days we need to mobilize.  It begins with education, 20,000 educators lost their jobs.  Expand Medicaid.  We could have four billion going to our hospitals, good paying jobs.  Green energy.  Create solar and wind jobs.  I know how to create these jobs.  People have trouble getting a job because of unfair convictions.  We are arresting too many people for having a joint in their pocket.  We should legalize marijuana.  Stop arresting African American men at  five times the rate we arrest whites.  That’s how we get schools to jails.

Fourth Issue:  Health care

Question:

  1. Expansion of Medicaid,
  2. Invest in family health care and maternity care,
  3. Stop corporatization of health care,
  4. Ensure quality care, and
  5. Ensure long term care.

Will you support these items and what will your agenda be?

Wolf:  This has become about politics and it shouldn’t be.  The governor is trying to destroy the president’s health care plan.  We absolutely need to expand Medicaid.  It is bad for the economy not to have universal health care.

McGinty:  Some issues are hard but when the federal government offers you $4 billion to give citizens health care the only answer is yes.   Increase availability and affordability yes.  All issues on human dignity.

Schwartz:  Hard to talk about health care in 2 minutes.     Personal to all of us.  The governor turned down opportunities, not federal money but our money.  Unacceptable.  Take the money and use it to benefit Pennsylvania.  We have great hospitals, medical schools and nurses.  If you doubt I can do this remember my work on CHIP which became a national mode.  Let’s get it done.

Hanger:  Wrong for people in our state not to have health care.  It is a human right.  Yes to Medicaid expansion but not enough.  We need single payer health care.  My wife is a physician, trained in Philadelphia, and opened a community practice.  We need to include mental health treatment and addiction treatment.  My son committed suicide at age 23 from depression.

McCord:  Human rights, social justice, human dignity, also about efficiency.  Ridiculous not to take Medicaid expansion.  Your movement is fighting a company town program.  [missed something here].  Use new technology, associates degrees, cut costs, seniors able to stay in their homes.  Repair middle class.

Personal observations:  The candidates were very gracious.  In my opinion far too much time was taken up with announcements from the sponsoring organizations and individual comments [“testimonies”] from the audience.  There were a few hecklers in the crowd and at one point two people got onstage with a banner offering their views on a political issue.  The forum stopped for a few minutes while they were escorted off stage.  Of the candidates Rob McCord was the only one to step away from the podium.  Each time he got up to answer the questions he would take the microphone and stand next to it instead of behind it.  He is clearly an experienced and enthusiastic speaker.