16th Congressional District candidates square off in Lancaster County debate

Written by Marie Cusick | Oct 10, 2016 10:32 PM

In a departure from the intensely personal and angry tone of the Presidential race, the three candidates vying to represent Pennsylvania's 16th congressional district engaged in a polite and substantive debate Monday at Penn Cinema in Lancaster County.

The 90 minute debate was jointly hosted by LNP Media Group and the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It pitted two-term state Senator Lloyd Smucker (R- Lancaster) against nonprofit consultant Christina Hartman (D) and businessman Shawn House, a Libertarian. All three are hoping to replace Longtime Congressman Joe Pitts (R) who is retiring. The 16th district covers much of Lancaster County as well as parts of Berks and Chester counties.

Among the first questions was whether or not each candidate supports their party's nominee for President. All have seen their share of controversy recently--whether its Hillary Clinton's private email server scandal, Donald Trump's vulgar remarks about women, or Gary Johnson's ignorance about the Syrian war. Although many Republican leaders have withdrawn their support for Trump in recent days, Smucker says he will continue to back the GOP nominee, despite being personally appalled by Trump's comments.

"It was despicable and completely indefensible," Smucker says. "But in Hillary Clinton, we've had someone who as Secretary of State mishandle classified information and then lied about it to the public."

Both Hartman and House said they will also support their party's nominees, despite their shortcomings. Hartman says Republicans are right to be worried Trump's candidacy may erode their majority in the House.

"What they have at the top of the top of their ticket is a very temperamentally unfit candidate who mocks the disabled and denigrates women. And that's not okay," she says. "Voters are not going to vote for that. They're also not going to vote for people who support that."

Another question was about the proposed Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline that would run through portions of Lancaster County. Both Hartman and House said they opposed the project, citing the pipeline company's threats to use eminent domain.  Smucker initially dodged the question, noting it is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, not Congress, that ultimately decides the fate of the project, but after prodding by the moderators, he said he supports it.

On a question about gun rights, both House and Smucker distanced themselves from Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey (R), who has backed legislation to expand background checks, while Hartman says she supports the idea.

"I think our current system of background checks is solid and prevents criminals from getting guns," says Smucker. "We should enforce the law we have in place."

"A gun is your absolute last, last, last right to self-defense," says House. "Free people should have it. I'm not crazy about all the types of restrictions."

Another question dealt with how the federal government should address persistent low wages and poverty.

Smucker pointed to the renaissance in downtown Lancaster as a success story, but said government policies, such as welfare, often trap people in poverty. Hartman said that better public education and job training are key to helping people, while House said the government's role should be building infrastructure.

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