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Southwest Caucus hears from Dems running for governor at Delmont event

| Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

Gubernatorial candidates discussed job growth, education and natural resources during the Democratic State Committee Southwest Caucus's straw poll event on Saturday.

Jack Hanna, chairman of the Southwest Caucus, said the event, held at The Lamplighter restaurant in Delmont, gave committee members the opportunity to learn more about each candidate.

“I perceive the gubernatorial race will have the most attention nationally than any other race in the United States this year,” Hanna said. “It really will be a bellwether of how people perceive government and how it should be administered and implemented.”

Candidates in attendance were State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre County; former DEP Secretary John Hanger; Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz; state Treasurer Rob McCord; former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty; Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, and York County business owner and former Department of Revenue secretary Tom Wolf. U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Philadelphia, and Max Myers, a small business owner and political newcomer, were absent.

Candidates took the floor in alphabetical order to describe their backgrounds, experience and visions for Pennsylvania.

Conklin, who described himself as “a small town boy from the top of the mountain,” focused on the importance of improving education and the value of unions. He said the selection of Democratic candidates is “the cream of the crop,” and he “will work for whoever wins.” When an audience member asked about his views on gun safety, Conklin said he supports doing background checks.

Hanger said he is running a “people's campaign,” stating that he wants to restore the American dream and create a “new birth of freedom.” He expressed support of unions, marriage equality for the LGBT community, regulation of the gas industry and an increase in the use of solar and wind energy. He supports doing background checks for gun safety, but he does not support a ban on guns.

Litz described improving public structures, conservation, transportation, farmland preservation, clean water and energy as a few of her priorities. She wants to add “economy-boosting” jobs while acknowledging and empowering existing businesses. Describing honesty, transparency and integrity as a few of her traits, Litz stated her motto is “People above politics.”

McCord expressed his support for unions and conducting background checks for gun safety as well. He said he is “desperate to defeat” Gov. Tom Corbett and is against “crony capitalism.” He said the gubernatorial race is about opportunity and education for him, both policy-wise and personally.

McGinty talked about the excellence of the state's workforce, adding that she would like to see a “renaissance of manufacturing” through fusing current methods with new technology. She supports increasing the use of natural resources and clean energy development. She also supports background checks for gun safety.

Pawlowski discussed how Allentown has improved during his time as mayor, becoming the fastest growing city in the state. He said he wants to “change the paradigm” in the state, address natural gas pipeline safety, invest in education and remain fiscally conservative but socially progressive. He supports background checks for gun safety.

Wolf wants Pennsylvania to become a “driver of economic development” and a “magnet” for entrepreneurs. He wants to improve transportation and tax Marcellus shale.

When Dan Blissman, Westmoreland County jury commissioner, asked why none of the candidates addressed improving benefits for disabled veterans, Wolf apologized and agreed that veterans deserve more. The other candidates were not present to respond to the question, as they had all left immediately after their speeches to attend the Northwest Caucus' straw-poll event in Grove City.

After the speech portion of the event, the committee agreed not to conduct a straw poll. Hanna said members felt it would not have been a fair consensus, because not all committee members could attend.

The Democratic State Committee Southwest Caucus includes elected party representatives from nine counties — Beaver, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland — which represents about one-seventh of registered Democratic voters in the state.

Committee member Lori Rittel of Indiana County said she was “very impressed” with the quality of the candidates and appreciated the opportunity to learn more about them.

The committee will have a similar event in January for the lieutenant governor candidates, Hanna said.

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or nchynoweth@tribweb.com.

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