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4 Republican candidates for Pennsylvania governor air their views

Wes Venteicher
| Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, 10:45 p.m.
Paul Mango
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Paul Mango
Laura Ellsworth
Laura Ellsworth
Mike Turzai
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Mike Turzai
Scott Wagner
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Scott Wagner

Little distance emerged between the four Republican candidates for governor on issues ranging from gun control and abortion to education and pension reform Thursday night during a question-and-answer forum in Hollidaysburg.

Candidates shared stories of owning their first guns, greeting their newborn children and selecting schools for them at the forum held in advance of the May 15 primary election.

The candidates railed against incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf's leadership and called for cutting spending to balance the state's budget, lambasting Wolf and other elected officials for relying on liquor, gambling, smoking and borrowing to fund state spending.

Participants were Laura Ellsworth, a Pittsburgh-based attorney with the law firm Jones Day; retired Pittsburgh health care consultant Paul Mango; state House speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall; and state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York.

All four candidates said they supported a measure Wolf recently vetoed that would have limited abortions to 20 weeks, rather than the current 24 weeks, and made changes to what procedures are allowed in the state.

The three male candidates had publicized their support of the legislation, Senate Bill 3, while Ellsworth had been quieter on the issue.

“I am pro-life; I believe that the first nine months of our lives are spent inside our moms,” she said during the debate, adding that the state should improve efforts to lower fetal and maternal death rates.

Wagner produced what he said was a concealed carry permit in response to a question about gun rights, while saying he supports background checks.

“We do need to have background checks; we also need to allow citizens of Pennsylvania to carry and possess firearms,” he said.

Turzai said he has received an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association and championed Castle Doctrine legislation that strengthens protections for homeowners using weapons to defend their homes.

Mango said he taught each of his five daughters to handle weapons in self-defense, and said that gun restrictions in places like Chicago and Paris fail to reduce violence while impeding people's ability to protect themselves.

Ellsworth, who said she owned her first shotgun at age 13, said any restrictions on gun buyers should be related to mental health.

The candidates supported school choice, blaming teachers' unions for resisting reform. They called for fewer mandates and more training to prepare students for jobs.

They said they each support the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides insurance for kids in families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but may still struggle to pay for health insurance.

The candidates each supported block grants for Medicaid, in which the federal government would give states set amounts of money for the program based on population and other factors instead of paying a portion of each patient's medical bills.

Ellsworth said she supports more transparency in medical prices, so consumers can shop around more easily.

Wagner and Turzai called for medical malpractice reform.

Candidates said they would support moving to defined contribution plans, such as a 401k, for new state employees to start to address the state's $70 billion unfunded public-sector pension liability.

Ellsworth and Turzai said the state should privatize the sale of wine and spirits and use the revenue that would result from the change to help address the liability.

Wagner said the state's investments could be better managed to bring in larger returns, and Mango said he might offer state employees buyout packages, offering them lump sums at the start of retirement to avoid higher costs over time. Mango said the state's workforce should be reduced to 50,000 to 55,000 employees from more than 80,000.

The forum, organized by the Blair County Republican Committee, was held two days before a state Republican Party straw poll that party leaders may use in decisions about which candidate to support. The debate was broadcast on the PCN cable TV station.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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