Democratic candidates for governor face off
HARRISBURG State Treasurer Rob McCord trumped his rival Democratic candidates for governor by proposing an immediate hike in the state minimum wage to $10.70 an hour during a debate Friday night before a gathering of liberal activists here.
"Walmart and McDonald's can afford this," McCord said. "Let's make them pay."
The other Democrats have called for an increase in the $7.25 minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as President Obama has pushed.
McCord said his higher figure accounts for the ravages of inflation since 1968, when, he said, the federal minimum wage was at the height of its purchasing power.
Jo Ellen Litz, a Lebanon County commissioner who has owned an auto-body shop, rebutted McCord, saying the minimum wage should be increased in steps, "or you're going to bankrupt small businesses."
For the most part, though, the six candidates on stage at the Harrisburg Hilton agreed on policy goals, sometimes differing on tactics.
All, for instance, supported a ban on natural-gas drilling in state parks and forests, and strict regulation of fracking elsewhere. The candidates shied away from attacking one another directly.
The two-hour debate was sponsored by the group Keystone Progress and took place before an audience of about 400 people attending its annual Progressive Summit. The tilt was broadcast live on PCN.
It came after a week in which three independent polls showed well-financed York businessman Tom Wolf opening up a wide lead on his rivals, on the strength of nearly a month of having the state's television airwaves to himself.
None of the candidates sought to bring Wolf down to earth - a few praised him for treating workers well at his building-products company - but there were a few swipes at him in response to a question about imposing limits on the size of contributions to political candidates. (Pennsylvania has no ceiling on them.)
Wolf has put $10 million of his family's money into his campaign, and has received a $1 million donation from a friend and business associate.
"I am spending about 80 percent of my time on the fund-raising end of the equation, and I feel zero percent good about that," said Katie McGinty, who was head of the state Department of Environmental Protection and a White House aide in the Clinton administration.
"We need to change that," she added.
"It is a challenge, as one of the non-self-funders in the race," said U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz of Montgomery County. In addition to Wolf, McCord has contributed or loaned his campaign $1.7 million.
Wolf said he realized that some people might consider him hypocritical for agreeing that money distorts politics while enjoying the benefit of his $10 million contribution to his own campaign.
"I am playing by the rules that exist now," he said. "As governor, I would do my best to change that."
For their part, Republicans mocked the seeming sameness of what the party's chairman called a "lackluster" group of candidates.
"For months, these Democratic candidates have tried to convince taxpayers that the only solution for our government's problems is more government, more taxes," state GOP Chairman Rob Gleason said in a statement.
Among the Democrats, John Hanger, a former DEP secretary, argued he was the boldest of the candidates.
"We do need a Democratic governor, but we also need bold, progressive change, so it matters who you choose," he said. "Schools, not jails, jobs, not jails - legalize and tax marijuana right now."
Schwartz, a five-term member of Congress and a former state senator, has by far the most political and government experience of the field. She said that was an asset because she has proved she can get things done, and she said she would break the glass ceiling in Harrisburg.
"We need a woman," Schwartz said. "A woman governor is going to come to Harrisburg, and it is going to change politics in Harrisburg forever."