Three Democrats vying for the newly minted 40th district seat in Pennsylvania State Senate met for a debate Thursday at East Stroudsburg University.
Currently encompassing Northampton County’s Slate Belt and all but three of Monroe County’s 20 municipalities, the 40th senatorial district was moved from western Pennsylvania in 2012 to account for the region’s growing population.
Candidates at the event included Bangor Mayor Joe Capozzolo, Northampton County Councilman Scott Parsons and Mark Aurand, a Lower Nazareth lawyer involved locally in President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
The debate, moderated by members of East Stroudsburg’s political science department, featured question and response periods on topics including education, the environment, pension reform and economic privatization.
All three candidates expressed dismay over what they characterized as waning funding for education within the Commonwealth.
“This governor has cut education to the bone,” said Capozzolo. “We can no longer allow our children to be dealt this hand.”
Aurand said that the issue extends beyond the primary and secondary levels into higher education.
“Public colleges are huge to people of this state who do not have the resources to go to private schools,” he said. “We can’t let that door be closed.”
Parsons said that the common core is a contributing factor to the perceived education woes.
“We have to let the school districts and the teachers and administrators there teach and not have to worry about passing a test,” he said.
Candidates also stressed the importance of raising extraction taxes on natural gas while also implementing a severance tax. Pennsylvania is currently the largest producer of natural gas not to have one in place.
In other legislative items, Aurand stated his strong support of women’s reproductive rights and of the LGBT anti-discrimination initiative, while Parsons voiced his support for the legalization of medical marijuana.
“We have got to get with the times folks,” he said. “Medical marijuana is a necessity.”
On the topic of privatization of services such as liquor sales and lottery distribution, candidates generally opposed the concept for differing reasons, with Capozzolo saying that keeping it state-run was more economically beneficial and Parsons going with a pragmatic “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” rationale.
Aurand meanwhile said he opposed the ideological nature of the discussion.
“I think privatization is largely driven by ideology,” he said. “I totally reject this notion that government can’t work efficiently.”
When the discussion turned to open space initiatives, Capozzolo talked about how protecting the environment can actually fuel economic development.
“It’s very important for our quality of life to keep open space and greenways,” he said. “And with that hand in is the revitalization of our downtowns.”
In the end though, all three candidates had the same message for the audience made up of numerous students: get out and vote.
“We need as a group to work our butts off at this election to get people out to vote,” he said. “It builds momentum for the general election. We gotta win the Senate back in Harrisburg.”
The winner of the Democratic primary on May 20 will face Mario Scavello in November’s general election.
Scavello, a Republican, is the current representative in the state House of Representatives for Pennsylvania’s 176th district.