District 7 debate
All but one of the eight candidates vying for the new 7th Congressional district seat appeared together before a standing room-only audience to answer questions at a recent forum sponsored jointly by the League of Women Voters of Lehigh and Northampton counties. Those at the forum were Democrats David Clark, Rick Daugherty, Greg Edwards, John Morganelli, Roger Ruggles and Susan Wild. Republican Dean Browning also participated.
Republican Marty Nothstein of Lehigh County declined the invitation, charging in a news release that “the League of Women Voters has become a partisan, liberal organization allied with the interests of the Democratic Party.” The League of Women Voters filed the court petition that resulted in the state Supreme Court’s congressional redistricting in February.
The new 7th Congressional district combines Lehigh and Northampton counties and incorporates large parts of Republican Congressman Charlie Dent’s old 15th district. Dent has announced that he plans to resign his seat sometime in May.
After brief opening statements, the candidates were asked a series of questions on topics ranging from the recent tax law to Social Security, their positions on the NRA and abortion, fracking, prison reform and the costs of higher education. Each candidate was given 60 seconds to comment on each of the subjects, and the order of answering was rotated each time.
The following is a summary of each candidate’s responses:
Dean Browning (R) (Lehigh)
In his opening statement, Browning said, “Without vision the people perish. The people in Washington only want to get elected. I have a different vision – the election of Donald Trump. I plan to work in Washington to make that happen.”
A former Lehigh County Commissioner, he considers himself a Christian conservative aligned with the Tea Party movement. He said he supports the defunding of Planned Parenthood, and would take steps to ban abortions, mentioning in particular Down Syndrome fetuses.
On the issue of gun control and the National Rifle Association, Browning said no other organization is more dedicated to gun safety than the NRA. He said he would be honored if it supported his campaign.
Browning said he is a supporter of the new tax plan that lowers corporate taxes so “our companies can be more competitive.” As for higher education student debt, he said guaranteed student loans have only encouraged universities to raise tuition. “We need to remove student loan guarantees and let the marketplace work.”
To address prison overcrowding, Browning said he supported decriminalizing possession of small amounts of some drugs. As for the Dreamers, he said he supported legal status, but not a path to citizenship. He also favors building the border wall.
On the issue of fracking, he said it is a key component. “Our strength is energy – petrol and natural gas.”
David Clark (D) (Lehigh)
Clark, who ran for Congress in 1992, said in his opening statement that what separates him from the other candidates is that he wants to remove Donald Trump from presidential decisions. Fiscally, Clark favors a graduated income tax, and Social Security payments based on wealth. “The more wealth, the longer the wait to receive Social Security.” He called the new tax law the biggest giveaway to the rich and said the trickle-down effect doesn’t work. With a graduated income tax, he said there would be enough money for higher education, but he added that he favors higher SAT scores for loan recipients.
He said he supports a path to citizenship for Dreamers, universal health care and prison reform, noting that felons have all their possessions taken from them so when they are released that forces them to come back into the system. He opposes mandatory sentences, saying judges are appointed because of their judgment.”
Clark accused the Koch brothers and Citizens United of owning the [U.S.] Senate, House of Representatives and now the Supreme Court. “They are spending $600 million in attack ads,” he said.
Rick Daugherty (D) (Lehigh)
Social worker Rick Daugherty is running for the House seat for the third time, after being defeated twice before by Charlie Dent. He observed that the cost of living adjustments (COLA) for Social Security are based on an urban worker and not a retired person, and that seniors have been cheated. He supports a new COLA formula specifically for senior citizens.
As for the new tax law, he said we have not seen funds being funneled back to job creation. “We’ll see what happens and cut out the stuff that’s not helping us.”
On another issue, he said he recognized that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, but he does not support federal funding for abortions. Concerning health care, Daugherty said preventative care needs to be a top priority, noting high costs of insurance result because persons don’t get health care early enough. He said more health services should be provided for people rather than imprisonment.
Daugherty said hydraulic fracturing (fracking) damages the environment and “we’re all being asked to clean it up. It’s got to stop.” He supports fining the companies for damages caused by fracking.
He said he backs full citizenship for Dreamers, commenting, “Let’s get it done.” He also called Citizens United “a threat to national security,” and accused Congress of not doing what it should to prevent foreign involvement in the U.S. election process. He approves of background checks for gun purchases, and said he wants to expand waiting periods.
Greg Edwards (D) (Lehigh)
Pastor Greg Edwards, who is endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, told the forum audience that the country needs campaign reform to put the people before money.
He criticized Congress for refusing to take action on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which he said would create a robust economy. He said that everyone who qualifies and wants to go to college should be able to graduate without being shackled with debt, and he said he favors universal health care.
On prison reform, Edwards opposes privatization of prisons and supports efforts to help prisoners re-enter society. He called the 800,000 Dreamers “Our children,” and said they should be American citizens.
John Morganelli (D) (Northampton)
Northampton County District Attorney Morganelli bragged that he got an “F” from the NRA because of his stance on gun control. He is supported by CeaseFirePA, a statewide organization working on reforms and legislation to prevent gun violence.
Speaking on the recent tax reform bill, he said it is not a permanent tax cut for average taxpayers, and at the least he would work to make it permanent. As for the high rates of interest on student loans, he explained that “Congress sets the interest rates.’ He said students should be allowed to refinance their loans.
On fracking, he said he supports Pa. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) oversight, vigorous prosecution of violations, and some financial benefit to the state.
He called Medicaid essential to helping the poor, and he would work to fully fund it. He said he supports Planned Parenthood, pointing out that the organization provides health care services to women beyond abortions.
An advocate for federal criminal justice reform, he said what he would like to see is a “retraction on federal crimes,” and decriminalization of marijuana. He said he would work for a constitutional amendment to eliminate Citizens United.
Roger Ruggles (D) (Northampton)
A long-time member of Easton City Council, Ruggles is a member of the faculty in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Lafayette College.
He promised to be fiscally prudent and protect Social Security. He called health care a right for everyone, and said costs need to be controlled. He added later that he fully supports Planned Parenthood and the services it provides for the community.
Commenting on higher education, Ruggles agreed that student loan interest rates are too high. He also encouraged universities to make it easier for students to graduate in four years.
Regulating fracking should be left to the states, Ruggles said, adding that there should be a fund that frackers contribute to in order to cover any environmental costs that might occur.
Susan Wild (D) (Lehigh)
Former Allentown Solicitor Susan Wild said she “genuinely worried about the futures of our children and grandchildren.” She emphasized the importance of health care for seniors, saying Social Security should be protected. Criticizing the new tax bill as only benefiting billionaires and large corporations, she said it has created a tax-break gap in the country. “Now they are going after Social Security.” Wild criticized school loan interest rates, saying they are higher than mortgage and auto rates.
She opposes privatization of prisons and spoke against incarcerating people for minor infractions. She also noted that opiate problems are less in states with legalized marijuana.
Campaign funding reform is among her top five priorities, Wild said, because the current system is corrupting government and keeping qualified people from running for office.
Wild objected to the phrasing of the question, “Do you support abortion?” She replied, “I support the right to choose.”
In response to questions, the candidates expressed support for a bill now in Congress called the “End Pensions in Congress Act,” or EPIC Act, which would end congressional pensions.
All Democrats pledged not to accept NRA campaign funding, and Edwards added a position not to accept PAC money, as well.