The Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg held a candidates’ forum Monday night featuring congressional contenders George Scott and Scott Perry, as well as candidates for five state House seats, two of which cover Cumberland County.
10th Congressional District
Perry, the GOP incumbent, faced off against Democratic challenger Scott for the third time in the race for Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District.
With a redistricting order from the state Supreme Court earlier this year, the 10th District race will be much more competitive than Perry’s current 4th District, which will soon cease to exist as a result of the boundary redraw.
Scott attempted to head off one of the GOP’s lines of attack early in the debate.
“They’re going to tell you about a George Scott that I’ve frankly never met,” Scott said. “They’re going to tell you that I’m a socialist, or that I’m dangerous.
“They’re going to tell you that I work for Nancy Pelosi,” Scott said. “Folks, I’ve never met Nancy Pelosi, and I don’t plan to vote for her as speaker.”
The candidates then fielded a question about civil discourse, with both men decrying increasing partisanship and crude rhetoric. Scott said he plans to join the bipartisan Problem Solvers’ Caucus if elected. Perry also stressed his bipartisanship, which he said is often underplayed.
“While I spend much of my time literally sitting on the other side of the aisle ... you don’t hear about it very often,” Perry said.
But from there, the bulk of the debate turned toward Perry’s membership in the House Freedom Caucus, an organization Scott described as “a far-right wing within the Republican Party” and “obstructionist.”
“The Freedom Caucus is a process organization,” Perry said. “It is not a right-wing organization, we take anyone who wants to come ... it’s just that Democrats don’t want to come and be part of the solution.”
As he has in other debates, as well as in his advertising, Scott hit Perry on his voting record within the Freedom Caucus, including the Freedom Caucus’ move this year to scuttle the GOP-written farm bill in order to force a vote on the immigration bills written by Rep. Bob Goodlatte.
One of these bills, which Perry supported, would have, among other measures, authorized President Donald Trump’s border wall, further restricted asylum-seekers, and forestalled a path to citizenship for people brought into the United States illegally as children and who are covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Scott opposed the Trump wall proposal, supported a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, and voiced concern about the separation of asylum-seeking families.
“The way to secure our borders is not to tear children away from families,” Scott said.
Perry said “if you saw these little children, if you have kids, you’re horrified,” in reference to family separations, but added that physical border security is necessary to prevent human trafficking and the drug trade. He criticized Scott for not having a clear solution to the problem.
“If we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing right now, which is what is being advocated for, you’re going to see the same things happening,” Perry said.
Perry also defended his stance on Medicare and Social Security after Scott went after Perry’s support for the GOP’s tax cuts and entitlement reforms.
“You can’t vote to stop legislation when there’s a Democrat in the White House and then turn around when there’s a Republican in the White House and vote for a tax cut bill that added $1.9 trillion to the deficit,” Scott said. “We’ve got this false crisis that’s been created by this tax cut bill where now we’ve got a shortage of revenue and are talking about cutting Social Security and Medicare.”
“No one in Washington, D.C., no one in my party, no one I know of except my opponent and his party is talking about cutting Social Security or Medicare,” Perry said.
While the GOP has generally sworn off reductions in Medicare or Social Security benefits for current beneficiaries, long-term cuts have often been floated. In 2014, Perry — along with a majority of the GOP — voted for Speaker Paul Ryan’s budget plan that would have hiked the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 starting 10 years after enactment.
Perry defended the GOP’s budget measures as necessary to right-size the government, adding that he has consistently supported a balanced budget amendment.
“The answer, when you’re spending too much, is to quit spending too much,” Perry said. “But if you’re going to vote no on spending that’s out of control, somebody is going to complain and say you’re an obstructionist, which is what you’re going to see tonight. It’s a hard vote but somebody has to be willing to take it.”
The two candidates also clashed on climate change.
“Climate change is a proven fact ... and it’s caused by the excessive use of carbon-based fuels,” Scott said, pledging to support market-based policies to encourage companies to reduce their carbon footprint under what is called a “fee and dividend” model.
Perry said that, while climate change is a fact, he is not convinced it is the result of man-made factors, and that the United States should not put itself at an economic disadvantage versus other major polluters such as China and India.
“You have to be willing and listen to everyone ... the science is not settled,” Perry said.
Of the five state legislative seats covered in Monday’s debate, two were seats that include Cumberland County: the 87th District, with GOP incumbent Greg Rothman facing Democratic challenger Sean Quinlan; and the 88th District, with GOP incumbent Sheryl Delozier facing Democratic challenger Jean Foschi.
Some seats received different questions. Foschi and Delozier fielded an inquiry about arming teachers — both were opposed.
Foschi supported wider control measures such as universal background checks and a ban on so-called “bump stocks” that increase a rifle’s rate of fire.
Delozier cited the $60 million included in this year’s state budget for increased school security measures, such as locks and training, as well as increasing the number of school resource officers in the state.
Quinlan and Rothman faced a question about Medicaid work requirements, with Rothman in favor and Quinlan opposed. Rothman spoke of the nobility of work in his response.
“You’re giving them purpose and that purpose helps them to grow as well,” he said of requiring beneficiaries to be working, in school, or completing job training or community service programs.
“I think it’s an insult to people who do need help,” Quinlan said, citing the impact on recovering addicts who may not otherwise be able to work and obtain medical coverage. “The last thing we should do is say, ‘Hey, maybe you’re an addict and you don’t qualify.’”
All four candidates were asked about state budget measures and how to fix the state’s chronic imbalances, where significant difference emerged.
Delozier said the state “needs to look at our debt and what goes into our debt.” Rothman supported tax cuts, which he contended would ultimately drive up revenue.
“I think the way we increase revenue to government is by cutting tax rates and growing Pennsylvania,” Rothman said.
Foschi and Quinlan both supported a severance fee on shale gas drilling — Quinlan supported a 6 percent tax rate, as opposed to the per-well impact fee the state levies now, putting Pennsylvania more in line with other states like West Virginia.
“How we have allowed the natural gas industry to buy our Legislature, pilfer our natural resources, ship it all back off to Texas, and stick us with the bill, I will never understand,” Quinlan said.
Quinlan also supported the legalization of recreational marijuana, quoting estimates of $500 million to $750 million per year in tax revenue from fully legalized cannabis.
Foschi said more needs to be done to prevent businesses from booking their profits to other states — the so-called “Delaware loophole.” She cited the figure from the state Department of Revenue that 70 percent of corporate tax returns filed in the state show no tax liability.
Foschi also supported the “Fair Share Tax,” a proposal supported by some Democrats that would reduce the state’s personal income tax rate from 3.07 percent to 2.8 percent for wages, but raise it to 6.5 percent for capital gains, dividends, and other forms of income that tend to be received by wealthier families.
Such a tax is estimated to bring in $2.5 billion in additional revenue per year, while reducing taxes for 60 percent of households, Foschi said.
Challengers were asked what committees they would like to serve on if elected. Both Foschi and Quinlan cited an interest in environmental legislation, given the impact of the Mariner East pipelines.
Incumbents were asked what legislation they would most like to pass in the next session, with Delozier discussing Marsy’s Law, a national movement to add victims’ rights into state constitutions.
“We have very well meaning district attorneys that try to make that happen, but we need Marsy’s Law to go through to take that change in the constitution to the voters,” Delozier said.
Rothman highlighted his bipartisan work, with Democratic Rep. Patty Kim, on the City of Harrisburg’s Act 47 exit plan. He also said he was interested in pursuing legislation allowing local police forces to use radar, an idea that Rothman admitted has proved unpopular with some.
“There are too many people dying on our highways,” Rothman said. “We need local radar.”