Representative Maureen Madden (Democrat)and David Parker (Republican) debated issues facing the 115th legislative district of Pennsylvania on Oct. 24. Both candidates are running for House of Representatives in Pa.
The American Democracy Project, Political Science Club, College Democrats and College Republicans hosted the candidate debate at ESU. Nearly every seat in Stroud 113 was filled by local residents or students seeking extra credit.
Wearing a patriotic red, white and blue, Madden and Parker shared smiles and handshakes with attendees. As the incumbent, Madden seemed to have more rapport than her opponent. “You ready to kill it? This is your home turf,” a young man told her minutes before the debate.
The debate’s moderator, Adam McGlynn, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, asked each candidate eight questions. Madden and Parker sparred over taxation, education and the economy.
The debate’s intensity grew with time, but the candidates maintained starkly different demeanors. Madden used a stern, bold voice to support arguments based on stats and numbers.
Parker remained soft-spoken and lighthearted with hopes of returning to office after his loss to Madden in 2016.
The first question asked Madden and Parker how they would bring high-paying jobs to the Poconos if they were elected on Nov. 6.
“We need to create a better business climate in Monroe County,” Parker said. He explained economic development is hindered by companies’ concerns about property taxes.
Connecting the right people is a factor too. Parker shared that last time he was campaigning, a business owner was searching for engineers but couldn’t find anyone to fill “great paying jobs.”
“I’m sure we got a bunch getting on buses to go to New Jersey and New York,” Parker said.
Madden placed the responsibility on businesses. “Yes, we need better paying jobs here, but we need the jobs that we have to be paying living wages.”
The incumbent proceeded to condemn McDonalds for giving its CEO, who makes $16 million per year, a 94 percent raise. “If McDonalds had spread that wealth among their [750,000] employees, they’d all be making $15.00 an hour instead of $8.2,” Madden said.
“So, don’t tell me Kalahari, Great Wolf Lodge, Camel Back and Camel Beach cannot pay a living wage. They can,” Madden said. “Walmart just spent billions of dollars creating a museum to honor themselves. They could’ve given their employees more money.”
Madden also suggested offering corporations incentives, citing a company she worked with in East Stroudsburg as an example.
The owner received a tax credit for over three years for paying a living wage.
Question two explored the best path for reducing property taxes.
Madden stated that her three-package bill is the best plan. She would increase the personal income tax (PIT) from 3.7 to 3.77, enact an eight cent per million cubic feet severance tax on natural gas, keep homestead and farmstead exclusions and provide renter’s rebates based on income.
Counties that receive a larger percentage of school funding would also see less of a tax break.
Parker expressed that the biggest challenge is getting bills passed. “There doesn’t seem to be progress in the last two years. It took 21 months just to get a bill introduced by my opponent. I know we don’t have that kind of time to waste,” he said.
“If I’m fortunate enough to have you send me back to Harrisburg, we will work on this immediately.”
Madden rebutted by stating she took a thoughtful approach and traveled across the state to talk to voters before introducing a bill.
Considering only a handful of counties have the same property tax issue as the 115th district, she wanted to ensure legislation was fair.
In 2016, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania created a new basic education funding formula with bipartisan support.
For the first time, the formula considered student head count and other factors to determine how money should be allocated to schools.
McGlynn explained the formula only applies to new funding going into the system. Under the old funding formula, some districts receive two-thirds or more of funding, while other districts like those in the Poconos only receive a quarter of their funding.
The third question asked Madden and Parker whether further revisions should be made to how basic education funds are distributed in the Commonwealth, and if so, how?
Parker thinks the formula should be applied to all money, then drive the money to schools that are underfunded. He said his initial proposal reflected this idea when he was in office.
Underfunded schools would have the opportunity to catch up, and schools that received more money than they should have wouldn’t receive any more.
Parker didn’t return to office to get a vote on his proposal, but he declares he was relentless. He believes his efforts led to the over $6.4 million he secured in new basic education funding, $3.7 million more than Madden raised during her term.
“She didn’t do anything. She didn’t introduce a bill, fight for hearings, nothing,” Parker said. “That’s what we need. We need a strong voice — not just a voice. We need someone that’s willing to do the work.”
Madden questioned Parker’s leadership, stating that despite claims he led the charge for equitable school funding, he didn’t vote for the equitable funding formula that was passed.
Madden also examined the effectiveness of Parker’s proposal. “They may have passed a bill in the first five months out of the house, but it didn’t go to the Senate, and it never came up to the governor for a signature because somewhere it didn’t work.”
“I will continue to support equitable funding. I achieved more equitable funding in my property tax reduction bill, which is why it took 21 months to introduce it because it’s a thoughtful bill that I talked to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle about,” Madden said.
Madden and Parker also threw blows at each other’s political values when discussing how to break the partisan divide and pass the Commonwealth’s budget.
“Well, I did it,” Madden said confidently. “We passed an on-time budget.” She believes the budget reflected the citizens’ priorities, including education funding, more money for the opioid epidemic and healthcare.
Madden didn’t hesitate to attribute Harrisburg’s problems to her colleagues as well, such as Speaker of the House, Mike Turzai, and State Government Chair, Daryl Metcalfe.
She said since Turzai had the house, 5 percent of democratic bills ever make it out of committee for a vote, and Metcalfe brags about not advancing democratic progressive bills.
Parker replied that he has a track record of working with democrats and republicans for legislation support. He considers issues facing the 115th district to be more geographically based.
“Starting to sound like the solution to partisanship by my opponent is more partisanship as she just cut into more republicans,” said Parker.
In her rebuttal, Madden referred to Parker’s comments as a “Kumbaya statement.”
The debate’s tail end returned to education. McGlynn asked the candidates how they would make education affordable and support PASSHE’s goals of quality education and long-term stability.
While Parker recommended restructuring the system to accommodate students, Madden disagreed with closing or consolidating PASSHE schools.
Madden wants to increase school funding and help students avoid “crippling debt” that’s “as big as a mortgage.” She also praised ESU’s Warrior Promise, which guarantees incoming undergraduate students the same tuition rate for the next four years.
“In-state tuition: free. They’re doing it in New York,” Madden said later in the debate. Her suggestion generated praise from the audience.
Parker, on the other hand, reminded audience members that there is “no such thing as free education.” He said the taxpayers will ultimately pay for free education, and he intended to keep tuition reasonable.
In their closing statements, both candidates finished with fiery accusations.
“The opposition is running one of the most negative campaigns in county history,” Parker said. He said special interest groups have already paid significant amounts of money to keep him out of Harrisburg.
Lastly, Madden told attendees she had been a “good steward of [their] money,” only billing them $5,000 in two years as she drove across the state.
Parker, she claimed, spent $22,000 on mileage reimbursement for his staff during his term. Parker accepted a rebuttal but eventually admitted “he wasn’t prepared to respond.”
By the end of the debate, attendees seemed to establish a clear winner.
“[Madden] was believable, and she sounded like she was actually interested in being bipartisan and being fair,” said Clara Bryant from Tobyhanna.
“I came here supporting Maureen Madden, and now I’m more convinced than ever,” said Linda Zak, an attendee at the debate. “ She is a woman that knows the facts. She knows the issues; she knows the solutions. She doesn’t talk in vague generalities. She has specific, concrete suggestions.”
“It was a one-sided debate,” said Ellijah Brown, a junior. “One candidate actually knew how to debate, while the other was more defensive and cautious, and I feel like it made a perception that one candidate had better policies than the other because of how they behaved on stage.”
As history professor Dr. Christopher Brooks said in the debate’s introduction, even the people in “little old East Stroudsburg” or any “sleepy place like the Poconos” can impact an election’s turnout.
Voters can cast their ballots in the general election on Nov. 6.
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