By Valerie Battaglia
Sen. Tom McGarrigle (R-26) and Democratic Citizen Mayor Swarthmore Tim Kearney, held an open-forum debate on Oct. 24 at the Springfield Township building to tackle issues relevant to Pennsylvania’s 26th District.
The debate was moderated by Mary Jo Gilsdorf and sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the NAACP and the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce.
Kearney and McGarrigle discussed topics, such as the legalization of recreational marijuana, gang violence, healthcare reform, and equitable education.
There was about a 20 minute delay due to a third-party videographer refusing to adhere to the no-recording policy. Along with the room cheering to kick the individual out, locals could be overheard muttering their annoyances.
“I’m giving it five more minutes and then I’m leaving,” said one husband to his wife, who agreed that the debate didn’t seem worth the wait.
Towards the end of the debate, the candidates were asked for their opinion on smear campaigning.
“Some of my opponent’s ads about me are almost funny, they’re so outrageous.” Kearney said, “If anything, they’re helping me get my name out there.”
McGarrigle responded by noting that most of the individuals in the room were ignorant of Kearney’s online presence.
“Most of you aren’t aware of his Twitter,” McGarrigle said, “He calls me a racist, a country club Republican, and ‘millionaire McGarrigle’ on social media. Probably because he doesn’t have any campaign money to say it in the mail.”
McGarrigle went on to say his opponent’s liberal views did not reflect the values of either party in the 26th District.
“[Kearney] has very liberal views that I really don’t believe are the views of all the residents, Republican or Democrat, in the 26th District,” he said, to which a member of the audience interjected, “Yes, they are.”
When McGarrigle continued to comment on Kearney being in favor of the legalization of recreational marijuana use, the audience gasped before lapsing into whispers and laughter.
“It is a gateway drug,” McGarrigle said. “To make another drug accessible, when we’re losing thousands and thousands of young people to the greatest opioid crisis in America, would be horrible to the residents [of Pennsylvania].”
One of the first topics the candidates responded to was healthcare.
Kearney said he believes healthcare is a basic right and supports the expansion of Medicaid, which covered an additional 700,000 Pennsylvanians after the Affordable Care Act was implemented. McGarrigle said he is determined to fight for more affordable prescriptions and opposes government provided health insurance.
“The last thing you want is government in your healthcare,” McGarrigle said. “This is what we did to the veterans of America, and the medical treatment they got at [Veteran Affairs] hospitals is terrible.”
Afterwards, McGarrigle said that he is working on a new funding formula for schools in the 26th district, but did not elaborate on the possible bill. Kearney agrees that this formula would be a step in the right direction.
“Harrisburg is funding the 26th District seventeen cents on the dollar, while other school districts are getting seventy-eight cents on the dollar,” McGarrigle said, “42 percent of school taxes come from our counties. We’re paying our fair share.”
Later, the candidates were asked for their opinion on the legalization of recreational marijuana use.
“We are just in the infancy of medical marijuana,” Kearney said. “So we should go slowly and start heading in that direction.”
McGarrigle said that he supported the use of medical marijuana, but not recreational.
When prompted on the effectiveness of smear campaigning, Kearney said he does not believe it works. McGarrigle noted that most of the individuals in the room were unaware of Kearney’s online presence.
Shortly thereafter, McGarrigle said Kearney’s liberal views do not reflect the values of either party in the 26th District, to which a member of the audience begged to disagree. McGarrigle responded by bringing up Kearney’s stance on the legalization of recreational marijuana use, which prompted an audible response from the audience.
One of the last questions presented pertained to Chester gang violence spilling into Springfield, considering the shooting that occured at the Springfield Mall on Oct. 20.
Kearney believes the general issue of gang violence begs a bigger question altogether.
“The recent shooting could have happened anywhere,” McGarrigle said. “I say we charge him with attempted murder for every bullet he fired and lock him away forever.”
McGarrigle left immediately after the open forum ended. Kearney stayed to take pictures with voters and their children.
“This isn’t about running against my opponent,” Kearney said. “It is about Republicans in general and bringing more liberal Democratic views into this district.”
At the time this newspaper goes to press, the 26th District of the Pennsylvania senatorial general election is too close to call.
Contact Valerie Battaglia at firstname.lastname@example.org