Smart Talk

Radio Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Radio Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

Hosted by: Scott LaMar

TV Smart Talk: From politics to economy, from health care to the environment, WITF's TV Smart Talk covers the issues and ideas that matter to you. It's never been easier to discover and share the news and information of your world and ours.

Hosted by: Nell McCormack Abom

  • TV Smart Talk - PA Supreme Court on Voter ID Law

    Written by Nell McCormack Abom

    Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law tops the docket at a state Supreme Court hearing this Thursday. We’ll debate the law’s merits on the season premiere of Smart Talk, Thursday night at 8 on witf TV. You can join the conversation by posting a comment below or to Facebook or Twitter, calling in live to 1-800-729-7532, or emailing Supreme Court

    Pennsylvania lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett last March enacted the nation’s most restrictive voter-identification law. It requires voters to produce acceptable photographic identification with a valid expiration date before casting a ballot. Click here for a list of approved forms of ID. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson upheld the law in August. Since then, the Corbett administration has rolled out a public information campaign explaining the new law’s requirements. There is a website, a new voting-only ID card, and a television ad that at least one Philadelphia lawmaker finds objectionable.

    State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai stirred more controversy last spring when he told a Republican gathering, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Many critics of the law jumped on that comment as “proof” of the GOP’s political motivation. They argue it is designed not to root out fraud, but to suppress the votes of key Democratic constituencies like minorities and the poor. However, Turzai’s spokesman, Steve Miskin, insists that Turzai merely meant to convey that the law would lessen the possibility of voter fraud, protect the sanctity of each vote, and thereby level the playing field for all candidates.

    In court testimony, lawyers for the state conceded that there is little documented evidence of voter ID fraud in Pennsylvania.  But Ron Ruman, press secretary for the PA Department of State and a guest on our show, points out other incidents of voter fraud, especially in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  “We had the issue with ACORN here in Pennsylvania.  And people said, 'Well, that’s voter registration, that’s not impersonation.'  My point is we have voter registration fraud in Pennsylvania and that is the first step to voter fraud.”  He adds, "People will do things outside the law to gain an advantage politically so shouldn’t we take the extra step to do this preventive measure which we see it as?” 

    Our guests include Sharon Ward, executive director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. The PBPC did a survey last summer to assess how well PennDOT was prepared to assist Pennsylvania voters in obtaining the appropriate voter ID. The results were less than stellar. Ms. Ward will share the findings and her concerns about voter ID this election cycle.  Mary Wilson, state Capitol reporter for witf FM, has covered the voter ID issue in-depth since its enactment and will join the discussion. And, Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe County, who voted for the law, rounds out our panel. Rep. Scavello made headlines this summer transporting an elderly voter to a PennDOT licensing center where she had trouble obtaining the necessary ID. He has vowed to assist any of his constituents who need voter ID.

    There also is the possibility of a split court decision. There are six justices – three elected as Democrats, three as Republicans including the chief justice. The seventh, Republican Justice Joan Orie Melvin, is suspended pending her public-corruption trial. If the court splits its vote, Judge Simpson’s ruling would stand and the law would be in place for the November 6 election.

    Ron Ruman says Pennsylvania has issued about 7,000 non-driver’s license photo ID cards since March. There is wide disagreement over the exact number, but it appears that at least 100,000 voters still need the photo IDs. A few key questions: How many voters will not have the required ID come Election Day? What effect will that have on the outcome in Pennsylvania? And, more fundamentally, which issue takes precedence – the right to vote or the right to a fraud-free election?

    Pennsylvania is not alone in fighting this battle. Seven other states, nearly all of them with GOP governors, strengthened their voting-identification requirements this year.

    We would love to hear your comments on the voter ID law. Be sure to join the conversation now by posting a comment to this article, or emailing You also leave a comment on Facebook or call in live to the program at 1-800-729-7532 Thursday night at 8.

    Published in Smart Talk

    Tagged under elections, fraud, pa supreme court, voter id

    Wednesday, 12 Sep 2012 10:01

  • Radio Smart Talk: "Paterno" author Joe Posnanski

    Written by Scott LaMar, Director of Radio Smart Talk

    Radio Smart Talk for Wednesday September 12:

    Paterno jacket.jpgHow the public views former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has changed a great deal since his former assistant Jerry Sandusky was arrested 10 months ago on charges of sexually assaulting and abusing a number of young boys.  Paterno's reputation and legacy were tarnished even more, and perhaps forever, when an independent report by former FBI director Louis Freeh said Paterno helped to cover up at least two of Sandusky's crimes.  For many, Paterno is still the legendary coach who won a major college record 409 games, but to others he is a villian who preached honesty and integrity, but failed to report a pedophile who preyed on children .

    Adding to the debate was the release of award-winning sportswriter Joe Posnanski's biography, Paterno.  Since it went on sale two weeks ago, the book has fueled a sometimes heated national discussion of how Posnanski portrayed Paterno.  Was he too soft on the 85-year-old who died in January?  Or, was the book a balanced examination of a complicated man?

    Posnanski will answer those questions himself on Wednesday's Radio Smart Talk.

    Listen to the program: {mp3remote}{/mp3remote}

    Published in Smart Talk

    Tagged under Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno, Joe Posnanski, Penn State

    Tuesday, 11 Sep 2012 12:11

  • Smoke-free zones are increasing; PA Lt. Gov. on flooding a year later

    Written by Scott LaMar, Director of Radio Smart Talk

    One year ago this week, Tropical Storm Lee pelted Pennsylvania with between seven and 15 inches of rain. The flooding that resulted damaged thousands of homes and other structures, including hundreds that were destroyed completely. Almost 560 state roads and 145 bridges were closed. At least 13 Pennsylvanians lost their lives. The storm knocked out power to 1.3 million people.flooding.jpg

    A year later, life is still not back to normal for many who were victimized by Lee.

    Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor James Cawley will appear on Tuesday’s Radio Smart Talk to describe the state’s efforts to recover from the storm and flooding.


    Also, dozens of Pennsylvania parks and recreational areas are being declared smoke-free zones. As part of the “Young Lungs at Play” program, smokers are being asked to refrain from lighting up cigarettes. The tobacco bans are designed to keep children away from second-hand smoke and to set a good example for them as well.

    Joining us on the program will be Mary Levasseur, Lancaster General Health's Manager for Community Health & Wellness and Judy Ochs, Director of the Division of Tobacco Prevention and Control for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

    Published in Smart Talk

    Tagged under floods, James Cawley, Judy Ochs, Mary Levasseur, radio

    Monday, 10 Sep 2012 15:23

  • How do you idenitfy yourself politically? witf's Public Insight Network wants to know

    Written by Scott LaMar, Director of Radio Smart Talk

    Radio Smart talk for Monday, September 10:

    The Democratic and Republican conventions are over and the election is just eight weeks away.  By most measures, the two main parties appear to be further apart than any time in recent memory.  We live in a partisan and, some would say, very divided country.

    On Monday’s Radio Smart Talk, witf will launch a new initiative called the Public Insight Network.  PIN is described as a way for witf’s various audiences to share their insights, knowledge and expertise with journalists to make news coverage more accurate, relevant, transparent and trustworthy.

    witf’s very first “query” amounts to a set of questions about your opinions on politics.  The questions include what party you most identify with and why.  

    We’ll begin Monday’s program with a discussion of the parties and their philosophies.  We’ll then turn to PIN and explain how you can participate and why it’s important.

    Published in Smart Talk

    Tagged under Elections, PIN, Radio

    Friday, 7 Sep 2012 20:04

  • World's first underwater marathon to benefit wounded vets; baseball history on City Island in Harrisburg

    Written by Scott LaMar, Director of Radio Smart Talk

    Radio Smart Talk for Friday, September 7:

    On June 26, 1928, Babe Ruth smacked a long home run over the right field fence for the defending World Champion New York Yankees.   That’s not so unusual since Ruth blasted 54 homers that year and set a Major League record by hitting 60 in 1927.  What’s noteworthy about this particular home run was baseball’s all-time greatest player hit it on City Island in Harrisburg against the old Harrisburg Senators in an exhibition game.

    That’s just one of hundreds of stories in Andrew Linker’s One Patch of Grass – a book that chronicles the history of baseball on City Island.  Linker will appear on Friday’s Radio Smart Talk to tell stories about Ruth, some of the all-time great African-American baseball players who played on City Island but were banned from playing with whites in the Major Leagues, and one of the sport’s most successful minor league franchises – today’s Harrisburg Senators.

    Also, the world’s first underwater marathon will be held Sunday, September 9 in Hershey to benefit wounded military special forces soldiers.  The idea developed when a former pro football player suggested veterans injured in combat would benefit from therapy in water just like athletes. 

    On Friday’s program, we’ll hear from one former soldier and Anson Flake, the CEO and co-founder of HydroWorx, the Middletown company that makes the underwater treadmills.

    Listen to the program: {mp3remote}{/mp3remote}

    Published in Smart Talk

    Tagged under History, Radio, Sports

    Thursday, 6 Sep 2012 19:54

  • Are there alternatives to property taxes?

    Written by Scott LaMar, Director of Radio Smart Talk

    Radio Smart Talk for Thursday, September 6:

    The Economic History Association says that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, British tax assessors used ownership or occupancy of property to estimate a taxpayer’s ability to their obligations to the king.

    As far back as 1905, the property tax was called “one of the worst taxes ever used by a civilized nation.”   

    The property tax is still not popular today and contrary to what the British crown thought, many believe it’s unfair and does not represent a person’s ability to pay.

    Over the past 30 years, there have been several efforts to eliminate property taxes and find alternative forms of taxation to fund local school districts and governments in Pennsylvania.  However, as unpopular as the property tax is, there isn’t enough agreement on how to make up the revenue it generates.

    There are several property tax reform or elimination proposals currently in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  On Thursday’s Radio Smart Talk, we’ll focus on them.  Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), who has proposed one of the bills, will join us.  Later in the program, local school board member and government reform activist Tim Potts also will appear.

    Do you support eliminating property taxes and replacing them with a higher sales and income tax?  Giving school districts an option to alternatives?  Keeping things the way they are?  Let us know.

    Listen to the program: {mp3remote}{/mp3remote}

    Published in Smart Talk

    Tagged under Economy, Education, PA Politics, Radio, Reform

    Wednesday, 5 Sep 2012 19:58

  • How much will food prices rise due to the Midwest drought and how are commodity prices set?

    Written by Scott LaMar, Director of Radio Smart Talk

    Radio Smart Talk for Wednesday, September 5:

    The drought that has left more than half the country parched will impact Central Pennsylvania in the form of higher food prices in the coming months.  While 3-4 inches of rain is forecasted for the region this week, parts of the Midwest and South haven’t received that much rain this year.

    Corn has been especially hard hit and that’s bad news because corn is used for more than just human consumption.  Corn feeds livestock, is used in ethanol production and is an ingredient in many products.

    On Wednesday’s Radio Smart Talk, the discussion will focus on how Pennsylvanians will be affected by the drought, especially at the grocery store.  The broader conversation will be what actually determines commodity prices.

    There are other factors at work too – the cost of diesel fuel actually contributes more to the price of a box of corn flakes than what wholesalers pay for corn.  From a consumer’s point of view, there’s no reason for optimism there because diesel fuel used in farm equipment is hovering around $4 per gallon.

    Appearing on the Wednesday program will be Jon Hart, the owner of Keystone Commodities and Chris Brand of Giant Food Stores.

    Listen to the program: {mp3remote}{/mp3remote}

    Published in Smart Talk

    Tagged under Economy, MoneyWorks, Radio

    Tuesday, 4 Sep 2012 20:14