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Pa. Democrat gubernatorial hopefuls debate at Carnegie Mellon University

Tom Fontaine
PTRForum1012714
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Candidates take part in a Democratic gubernatorial forum at CMU in Oakland Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014.

Pentecostal minister Max Myers of Mechanicsburg fumbled the pronunciation of “Carnegie.”

Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz said her favorite Pittsburgh destination was Erie’s Presque Isle State Park.

And none of the eight Democrats running to unseat Gov. Tom Corbett grasped the “lightning round” concept during a debate Sunday at Carnegie Mellon University in Oakland. They all stretched what were supposed to be one-word answers into long sentences with the speed of auctioneers.

Yet many of the roughly 500 people who attended despite wintry conditions came away impressed.

“That was a very intelligent group of candidates. I expect one of them will make a fine governor,” said Joe Guthrie, 71, of East Liberty, who remains undecided on whom he will vote for in the May 20 primary.

It was the first glimpse many had of the candidates, who in addition to Myers and Litz are: former Department of Environmental Protection secretaries John Hanger and Kathleen McGinty, state Treasurer Rob McCord, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Montgomery County and former state Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf.

None has ties to Western Pennsylvania. Locals were easy to find in the last gubernatorial race, which included Shaler’s Corbett, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato of Brighton Heights and former state Auditor General Jack Wagner of Beechview.

The eight candidates shared similar views on most issues.

All said the state should provide more money for public education, intervene to resolve the ongoing UPMC-Highmark dispute and, to varying degrees, more stringently regulate and tax the Marcellus shale gas drilling industry. Myers supports an moratorium on fracking, while most favor banning drilling in certain areas such as state parks or other public land.

Most support preserving a woman’s right to get an abortion and a gay couple’s right to marry — though some candidates passed on saying where they stood on the questions during the lightning rounds, including Myers and Litz on both questions. Hanger drew some of the loudest applause when he advocated legalizing marijuana. He said regulating and taxing pot could generate $200 million in revenue and reduce state spending on enforcing laws.

Most other candidates said they support legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes and decriminalizing the possession of it.

“The Democratic candidates are running on an extreme liberal agenda of more taxes, more spending and more Obamacare,” Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason said in a response.

Bob Heffernan, 66, of Fox Chapel is glad to have so many candidates to choose from.

“I came in not knowing much about them, but I think three or four of them were pretty interesting and might be good governors,” he said.

Added Joni Rabinowitz, 72, of Shadyside: “I’m not crazy about any of them just yet. Hanger did a good job and is my most likely favorite, but I feel really strongly that we need a woman in there, and McGinty and Schwartz are very good.”

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].

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