Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
With few policy differences among them, the four candidates running for the Democratic nomination for governor assumed familiar positions at their final debate before the May 20 primary.
Tom Wolf, far ahead of the competition according to recent polls, offered high-brow answers to challenges that he's not qualified to be governor after running a business in York and being state revenue secretary for two years.
"I think the implication here is that the qualification that we have for running for public office isn't adequate citizenship. I'm a citizen of this state and actually I've had a very broad experience in things," said Wolf. "I think if I'm unqualified -- someone like me is unqualified -- that's a serious indictment of our democracy."
State Treasurer Rob McCord repeated his attacks on Wolf for failing to denounce racism in York in 2001, for business practices that created jobs in another state, and for trying to sway voters with feel-good ads.
"Not every citizen who's a nice person and a smart person is qualified to be governor," said McCord, over the low warnings of the debate's moderator, Larry Kane, who was saying "time!" in an attempt to keep each candidate's mic time equal.
McCord also took a shot at Wolf's frequent television ads early in the campaign, the ad buys bolstered by millions of dollars in Wolf's personal wealth.
"If we nominate somebody who manages to turn the primary contest into an auction instead of an election -- if it's 100 percent predictable that if you just bring more money to television, you're going to be the nominee -- I think the Democratic Party could be in trouble in the fall," McCord said.
Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz aimed at Wolf's lack of experience in elected office.
"We cannot take a risk of someone who is untested, unproven, in bringing leadership to government," said Schwartz. "It is different than running a business."
Former state environmental protection secretary Katie McGinty, trailing in the polls, veered away from negative statements about her opponents.
"There's been quite a bit of fighting in this campaign, but as governor, I want you to know that Katie McGinty will be fighting for you," she said.
The starkest policy debate during the entire exchange at Drexel University in Philadelphia came not from the candidates, but from a protester who stormed onto the stage about midway through the hour, shouting at the candidates for not supporting a moratorium on fracking.
"We want to know why they're not answering Pennsylvanians' questions about fracking," the woman shouted, her voice echoing through the theater. "We can't fund our schools on a boom and bust industry."
The continuation of natural gas drilling is crucial to the policy platforms of all four Democratic gubernatorial candidates - they have all proposed raising taxes on natural gas drillers to generate revenue they say would then be dedicated to education.
"Take her out," said Kane, directing someone to escort the woman from the stage. A second voice sounded from the audience, also shouting.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to continue this debate," said Kane, the moderator. "Free expression's one thing. Inappropriate behavior is another."
Published in State House Sound Bites
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