GOP candidates for governor face off in debate

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The three candidates for the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania governor faced off in a debate Wednesday evening.

The debate was held at Willow Valley Communities in Lancaster and sponsored by ABC27 News and LNP.

The debate began with Paul Mango, Scott Wagner, and Laura Ellsworth pointing out differences between each other.

Mango said he is the only candidate who has talked about growth and bringing jobs back home.

Wagner said he’s the only one talking about the issues, saying his 40 years of experience as a businessman and four as a state senator allows him to understand the issues inside and out.

Ellsworth said she is the only person who has spent the last 15 years actually leading organizations in economics, development, tax, and infrastructure. 

The debate then turned to how the candidates plan to help dairy farmers who are facing financial issues.

Ellsworth said the government needs to work with the private sector to create co-ops to help the farmers replace contracts they recently lost.

Mango said the government needs to cut regulations for farmers, eliminate property taxes, and change an Obama-era rule requiring skim milk in schools.

Wagner focused on the amount of money farmers pay on permits allowing them to comply with DEP regulations. 

The candidates were asked about the tone of the campaign. Both Mango and Wagner have released ads highly critical of each other. 

Mango said he will continue to go after Wagner’s character because he says it is important Pennsylvanians know about the differences in character because Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will exploit Wagner’s faults in the general election. 

In response, Wagner asked Mango if he would agree with both men not mentioning each other’s names in ads for the duration of the campaign. Mango declined the offer. 

The candidates were asked about nursing home regulation.

Mango said we need a healthcare system that meets the need of our aging elderly. He is calling for reforms with Medicaid to provide more support for the nursing care system. He adds that regulations for the agency are excessive.  

Wagner says he’s talked with good nursing home providers who complain that state investigators look for “gotcha” issues when doing inspections. He says they need to focus on training and compliance and not on “gotchas.” 

Ellsworth said she wants to foster an aging-in-place system so seniors don’t have to rely on nursing homes. She said regulations are focused on so much minutia that nursing homes don’t have time to focus on what is important. 

When asked about whether the candidates would release their tax returns, all three said they would comply with all financial reporting requirements, but would not release their taxes. 

The candidates were asked about a proposal that would replace property taxes with taxes on pensions and retirement incomes. 

Mango called the proposal “completely incoherent,” saying it would drive seniors away from the state.  

“We shouldn’t do it,” agreed Ellsworth. She said the current system has brought a lot of seniors and their wisdom to Pennsylvania. 

Wagner said it is worth discussing and looking into the proposal. He added that simply exploring taxing pensions and retirement doesn’t mean he will ultimately endorse it. 

The debate returned to the topic of nasty ads. Mango said Wagner started it when he released an ad that included lies about Mango. “When I get punched, I’m going to punch back,” said Mango. 

Wagner said he wanted to talk about the issues and not focus on the nastiness of the race. 

Ellsworth, who has not taken part in the negative ads, said they hurt the GOP’s ability to beat Governor Wolf in November. She said it hurts our children when they see leaders attack each other. “Calling people names doesn’t make you a big man,” Ellsworth said. 

Finally, the candidates were asked, if elected, what they’d do in the first 100 days in office. Wagner said he’ll bring all the key players involved with the drug opioid crisis together to find ways to solve the problem. He also said, within the first 48-hours, he’d reverse the moratorium on the death penalty enacted by Gov. Wolf. Wagner said his top priority would be to enact zero-based budgeting. 

Ellsworth said in her first 100 days in office she’d focus on her 10-year business plan, which would provide a roadmap for the future of the state. She also said she will bring together the leaders of the legislature to get things done and harness the power of the private sector. 

Mango said he would focus his first 100 days on changing the culture in Harrisburg. He said state employees are poorly lead and we need to instill confidence in those employees and in the people of Pennsylvania. 

Republican voters will decide in the May 15 primary which of the candidates will square off against Wolf in the general election.

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