Wolf, Wagner face off in only PA gubernatorial debate
HERSHEY, Pa. – Current governor Tom Wolf and his Republican challenger Scott Wagner faced off last night in the only debate before November’s midterm elections, an event moderated by “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek and full of incisive questions about everything from gerrymandering to education.
Trebek, who was born and raised in Ontario, Canada, showed the audience that he did his homework on the state of Pennsylvania. Drawing on his fame as the host of a quiz show, Trebek opened the debate by posing a trivia question to the candidates about the Philadelphia Eagles. From there, he quickly moved on to the topic of corruption in politics.
Both Wolf and Wagner agreed that money has become a corrupting influence in politics.
“I’m far from an insider,” Wagner declared when asked if politics has become too much of a blood sport. “I’d say the system is pretty corrupt.”
Sticking with the topic of civility in politics, Trebek went on to say that “[voters] don’t want to choose between the lesser of two evils.”
Trebek then asked the candidates if they had ever said something about their opponent that they knew was untrue. Wolf responded by saying “not that I remember, no,” which drew laughs and jeers from the crowd of about 1,700 at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce Dinner where the debate was being held.
Throughout the debate, Wagner drew on his background as a self-proclaimed “blue-collar guy,” while the incumbent Wolf focused on his accomplishments during his past three years and eight months in office.
Gerrymandering, which has been a contested issue throughout Wolf’s term, was one of the more heated topics of the night. In February of this year, the state Supreme Court released a redrawn map that changed some districts, including District 7, which Trebek specifically brought up as an example of a district drawn with partisan intentions.
Wolf defended the new court-drawn boundaries, saying that “the map that the Supreme Court picked was a fair, objective map.”
Wagner argued that the redrawn map was “corruption at its best” and that new districts mean that “people don’t know who they’re voting for.”
Throughout the night, Trebek attempted to keep the mood light and conversational, often interjecting personal tangents that took time away from Wolf and Wagner.
At one point, Trebek made reference to the accusations of sexual assault within multiple Catholic dioceses in the state, saying that “the only thing with a lower approval rating [than the government] in Pennsylvania is the Catholic Church.” He then went on to speak for over a minute about his time at an all-boys Catholic boarding school where he said that it would have been known if any of his classmates were sexually assaulted.
Trebek also told Wolf and Wagner that “you guys have been shortchanging education in this state for decades.” The ensuing conversation about education centered on whether or not Wolf’s claim that the increased education spending by more than one billion dollars was true. While Wolf stood behind his claim, Wagner disagreed, prompting an argument about education funding that was almost entirely between Wagner and Trebek, with Wolf occasionally interjecting.
Both candidates, along with Trebek, agreed that Pennsylvania has a pension crisis and needs to do more to ensure that more money goes directly to students in the education system.
The candidates also agreed on a need for more civility in political discourse and that the state should move to an open primary system, which would allow all registered voters to cast a vote in primary elections. Pennsylvania is currently one of 14 states that has a closed primary system.
Other hot topics of the night included the death penalty, which Wagner strongly supported, saying that if elected he knows “the first person [he’ll] sign the death warrant for.”
Wolf stood by his 2015 decision to put a moratorium on executions.
The final and most heated topic of the debate was the severance tax, which Wolf has proposed as governor and which Wagner does not support. After a back and forth between the candidates, Trebek drew the crowd into the question, arguing with members of the audience over the benefits of the proposed tax.
Trebek then started arguing with Wagner over the taxation of natural gas and oil companies in Pennsylvania, telling Wagner that “you’re not taxing them that much because most of them are based in Oklahoma and Texas.”
Immediately after making that statement, Trebek declared that “we’re out of time,” eliciting boos and jeers from the audience.
In his closing statements, Wolf, who is leading Wagner by double digits in every poll that has been conducted, told Wagner “thank you for running” and pledged to continue the work he has started in his first term as governor if re-elected.
Wagner used his closing statements to talk more about his childhood growing up on a farm and about his background as the founder of Penn Waste, a major waste management and recycling company. He also told the audience that if he is elected governor and does nothing in four years, “I will change my name to Tom Wolf.”
Even though Wagner previously proposed a debate in all 67 counties in the state, Monday night’s event marked the only time the two candidates will talk about issues face to face ahead of the November 6 election.
Steph Krane is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.