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Candidates talk abortion, guns economy, religion, healthcare

LANA MUTHLER / THE EXPRESS From left are candidates at Tuesday night’s Christian Coalition Candidates Forum: Fred Keller, Cris Dush, Patrick Robinson, Joe Waltz, Margie Brown, and Lee Griffin.

LOCK HAVEN — The annual Clinton County Christian Coalition Candidates Forum Tuesday evening gave the public a taste of what local candidates seeking election on Nov. 3 stand for and how they feel about the issues.

Five candidates attending the event, held in the large courtroom at the Clinton County Courthouse, included Joe Waltz, a Democrat, seeking his first term as state representative for the 76th District; Democrat Margie Brown and Republican Cris Dush, competing for the state Senate seat for the 25th District; and Incumbent Republican Fred Keller and his opponent, Democrat Lee Griffin, looking for the U.S. Congress seat in the 12th District.

Notably absent was State Representative Stephanie Borowicz, who is seeking a second two-year term serving the 76th District. Borowicz could not be present as she reported she is quarantining after coming in contact with a person in the House who tested positive for COVID-19.

However, Borowicz appeared via video presenting a brief pre-recorded message to start the forum, touting her pro-life and pro-gun beliefs. Calling herself a “stateswoman,” she said she has sponsored efforts to get state funding for Monument and Snow Shoe water systems.

She said the people of the 76th District have never left her mind since she was sworn in and she has voted according to her constituents.

Calling Governor Tom Wolf a socialist, she promised to continue to fight against him. “Keep me in this fight. I have the ability. I want to continue to serve with everything in me. It’s been one of the greatest honors of my life.”

First to address the crowd of about 50 people, all masked and social distanced, was Waltz, who is taking a shot at politics for the first time, but is not without a vision of what a state representative should be.

Asked about the job of a state representative, Waltz said, “It is to help lead… not national issues… but issues that keep people here awake at night, like bridges and water issues.”

He said he’s been attending municipal meetings throughout the area and listening to what the people need and want. “That’s what a state representative does… listens to the people and then goes to Harrisburg to find help with those issues. It’s about people… all people. I’m gonna listen to you… my constituents … and do my best to help you.”

As he gave answers to 10 questions posed by Patrick Robinson, Waltz, a retired teacher, said when it comes to education during this pandemic, “It’s a parent’s issue. If a parent feels it’s safer for their child to be educated at home, no problem. If a parent feels school is safer, no problem. Parents should have the final say to how they want to educate their children. Home schooling is a parent’s perogative.”

Talking about the local economy, Waltz said small businesses are suffering. “It’s the government’s role to take care of citizens… getting loans and grants to small businesses … supporting the farmers. They are all essential to our community.”

Waltz was asked about areas of wasteful spending in state government. He responded, “I’m not yet a state representative, so I’m not exactly sure, but I know we need to spend money where it is needed.” He mentioned high numbers of unemployment and lost jobs and the need to take care of these people. “The bottom line is we need to take care of our people, our small businesses and our community.”

On the second amendment, Waltz said he was raised in a house with guns and as a child, he learned how to use them safely and conscientiously. “I have no problem with good, law-abiding citizens having guns.”

Legalization of recreational marijuana? Waltz said he’s not in favor of it being legalized, saying he has concerns its use would cause slow reaction time and more accidents.

As to abortion, Waltz said, “Nobody likes abortion, but I do believe a woman’s right should not be infringed upon.” He said programs like family planning and good healthcare will lower the number of abortions.

Answering a question on religious freedom, Waltz said he certainly supports it. “I’m all for anybody expressing their religion. There’s plenty of room for religion in government and in personal life.”

In closing, Waltz said, “There is a gridlock in Harrisburg. We need new people. I am that person. I did not take one cent from the Democratic party. 950 people donated to my campaign. I owe nobody. I will go to Harrisburg and work for the people of this district.”

The candidates for state senator in the 25th District — Dush and Brown — were next to the microphones. It was noted that this is an open seat caused by the retirement of Joe Scarnati at the end of this term.

Brown said she entered the race because she saw things were not working well for rural Pennsylvania. “We need better representation and competition drives better representation. She said she has been a Republican and is now a Democrat and believes in public service.”

Dush, now a member of the state House of Representatives representing District 66, said he has been trying to unearth the abuse of funding. Every dollar is not going out to where it is supposed to go. It needs to be brought back to the taxpayers or wherever it is needed.”

He said the biggest challenge the area is facing, besides COVID-19, is jobs. “We were just starting to recover with the natural gas industry when the virus hit. Small businesses are being driven out by Walmarts and the government doesn’t care about small business. The government needs to get out of the way and let small business owners take care of themselves. Small business owners know what they are doing.”

Brown on the other hand, said healthcare is the biggest challenge in the nation and the state. She said there are women who have to driver over state lines to deliver a baby. “It’s a crisis.”

Responding to the job situation, Brown said the problem is “rural areas are not getting their fair share of state and federal money to improve infrastructure. It’s imperative that we extend cellular and internet access throughout the rural areas. Don’t give Philadelphia more than Lock Haven. The Baby Boomers are retiring and the young people are leaving. We need to bring them back.”

On abortion, Dush said: “A baby has the right to live from the moment of conception. Roe vs Wade was wrongly decided in the first place.” And Brown said, currently, abortion rights are at the federal level and she doesn’t believe in wasting time and money in the state on the federal issue. Her personal opinion is much more nuanced.

Both agreed that everyone should have religious freedom, the right to assemble and worship as they please.

Last to the mike were U.S. Congressional candidates Fred Keller and Lee Griffin. Keller was elected to fill the vacancy caused by the early retirement of Tom Marino. Griffin is new to the political scene.

Griffin said he decided to throw his hat into the ring because “this year is too important to sit out. The future is ours. It takes ordinary citizens to run for office.”

Keller said, “I want to make sure the values of our district are represented in Washington… make sure the American dream is alive and well for our children and grandchildren.”

Talking about the economy, Keller said it’s all about creating jobs.

Griffin said with the Baby Boomers retiring, there’s a great opportunity for our young people. Skilled trades are great paying jobs. We need partnerships and investments in trade schools.”

Keller agreed. “There’s a huge opportunity to get training… apprenticeships, trade schools, on-the-job learning. Companies need to offer apprenticeships.”

Talking about the national debt, Keller said, “We need balanced budgets. We cannot pass another CARES Act. We need to get the economy growing again and make sure we have a good healthy economy. We need accountability… that spending deals are spent on the issues at hand.”

“The economy needs another stimulus,” Griffin said. “We need in this crisis another stimulus so small businesses can rebound and repay the government. There are programs that can be cut in the budget. We must reinstate funding for Social Security and Medicare. We need that funding for those programs.”

On the question of term limits, Keller and Griffin differed.

“I do think some in government serve way too long. People shouldn’t be in government for a very long time. We should look at unelected people in government, too,” Keller said.

Griffin said, “Every election is a term limit. We hold the legislature accountable every election.” He said he’d be willing to look at term limits.

How about police reform and police defunding?

“Law enforcement does a great job and we should respect that. Some don’t do things right and we need to hold them accountable. We need to give them the training and the tools to do the job properly,” Keller said.

Griffin concurred. “Police take an oath to serve and protect. It is a risky job. Our police need to be trained in de-escalation and racial training.”

When the abortion issue came up, Keller and Griffin had different views.

“It’s a very personal and a very trying decision for any woman,” Griffin said. “I support her sovereignty and right to make that decision. That legislation should not be forced on a woman. I will protect her ability to make her own decision.

Keller said he is pro-life. “Nobody can convince me that a baby is not a life at the time of conception.”

Both candidates also agreed on religious freedom of choice.

In closing, Keller said, “You and your families deserve to live the American Dream, freedom to worship, freedom to succeed. We must move together as one nation to defeat this virus and get back a record economy.”

Griffin said, “This year is crucial. It’s a turning point in this country. I believe our best days are in front of us. The future is ours. We have big challenges… virus, economy, healthcare. America tackles big challenges. We need politicians with leadership to guide this country forward.”

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