Congressional candidates square off at Pittsburgh Mills forum
Candidates from three Western Pennsylvania congressional districts talked health care, jobs and their backgrounds at a Friday luncheon in Frazer.
The Alle Kiski Strong Chamber of Commerce hosted the forum, capping attendance at 100 people, many of whom were involved in business or politics.
In attendance were U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Mt. Lebanon, who are facing off in the 17th District; U.S. Rep. G.T. Thompson, R-Oil City, and challenger Susan Boser, D-Indiana, campaigning in the 15th District; and state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Jefferson Hills, and Bibiana Boerio, D-Unity, who are campaigning in the 14th District.
Each candidate was given 10 minutes for a speech and attendees could approach them afterward to ask questions.
Born in Latrobe to a father who was a tool-and-die maker with a second job driving a school bus, she went to work at Ford Motor Co. as an entry level accountant and worked her way to senior executive at the company, Boerio said. Then she worked as chief of staff for former Delaware County Rep. Joe Sestak.
Unemployment remains too high and wages too low in parts of her district like Fayette and Greene County, she said. Investments in infrastructure and broadband, along with affordable health care, are keys to improving employment and wages, she said.
“We need leaders who are willing to step up and do what is best for our country. I think we need public servants who serve the public,” she said.
The South Hills state senator told the crowd he earned a law degree from Duquesne University and then pursued a childhood dream of serving in the military, becoming a Navy prosecutor. He practiced law before winning an election as a district judge and then as a state senator.
Reschenthaler said he focused as a state senator on judicial reform, economic growth, animal welfare and mental health treatment. He said Medicare and Social Security need to be protected.
“I pride myself on teamwork, getting things done and caring about people, not party,” he said.
New to politics, Boser said she worked for 20 years in human services before earning a doctorate in policy from Cornell University. She focused on improving how Medicaid works in rural New York counties and now teaches at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
She said she wants to tackle the problems facing the vast rural territory of the 15th District, including opioid addiction, domestic problems and higher suicide rates than in urban areas.
“I believe deeply in the value of small towns. I’ve lived in one pretty much my whole life,” she said.
The five-term congressman worked as a therapist and nursing home administrator before his election in 2008.
He said the best thing Congress can do to “fuel economic engines” is to help create “qualified, trained employees.” He said a career and technical education bill that he authored, and which the president recently signed into law, restores “rungs on the ladder of opportunity.”
“I work very hard to make sure every bill I introduce is bipartisan,” he said.
The first-term congressman is a Marine Corps veteran and former federal prosecutor.
He cited the statistic that Pennsylvania has the second-highest number of structurally deficient bridges in the country in renewing his call for the infrastructure investments that President Donald Trump promised during his campaign. The state’s poor infrastructure is a drag on the economy, as is the high cost of health care, he said. He said Medicare should be negotiating drug lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, blaming its failure to do so partly on pharmaceutical companies’ campaign donations.
“Neither party has the complete answer, and neither party should be proud of the fact we haven’t gotten it done yet,” he said of the proposal.
The three-term congressman is an attorney who served as the first director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Rothfus credited Republican Party policies with recent economic growth, saying the corporate tax cuts in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act could help bring companies back from overseas. He talked about the need for more workforce development, opioid treatment and regulatory relief.
“We’re delivering relief because we know the importance of getting capital to new businesses,” he said.
Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Wes at 412-380-5676, email@example.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.