ASHLEY — Five gubernatorial hopefuls and two men who want to be lieutenant governor were among political candidates mingling with locals Sunday afternoon at the Luzerne County Democratic Committee’s Annual Fall Picnic.
The state-level hopefuls — part of a growing Democratic field looking to unseat Republican Gov. Tom Corbett next year — each had four minutes to talk about their platforms during a gathering of party faithful at the Catholic War Vets Grove on Old Ashley Road.
The gubernatorial candidates who appeared here were former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger, businessman Tom Wolf, businessman and former pastor Max Myers, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz.
Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith and former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, who are seeking the state’s second office, also attended.
County Democratic Chairman Bob Boyer said invitations were extended to all Democrats who he understood to be running for the posts, but the others all indicated they had previous engagements that prevented them from attending.
Hanger, of Hershey, said he wants to save the state’s public schools from privatization, condemning cuts to education while spending money on “failed charter schools.” He wants to keep natural gas drilling out of state parks and allow for more stringent zoning and regulation of drilling on private land.
“It’s insane that we don’t have a drilling tax,” Hanger said.
Wolf, of York, called for renewed emphasis on investing in infrastructure, from fixing ailing bridges to improved telecommunications facilities across the state. He said there needs to be a new conversation on those issues and job growth generally, so young people, like his own children, don’t feel the need to move out of state to find good jobs.
“We need to create a state that attracts people like our daughters,” said Wolfe, who also took aim at growing income inequality across the commonwealth.
Myers, from Cumberland County, said he would focus on the state’s growing poverty epidemic, saying one-fifth of Pennsylvania’s residents are living at or below the poverty line. He also sounded a cry for improving public schools, bringing manufacturing jobs back to the state — by financing start-ups, if necessary — and better environmental stewardship.
“I am not opposed to natural gas, I am opposed to pollution,” said Myers, adding that he favors a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, until more is understood about the process or it is replaced by a different method.
Pawlowski reiterated the message he brought to Luzerne County during an appearance in Hazleton earlier this month, describing his success in working to revive Allentown’s finances, funding its once-struggling pension system and encouraging new development. He pointed to the vast number of struggling cities across the state as evidence of the work that needs to be done.
“We have a one-party system, folks,” he said of Republicans who control the governor’s mansion and legislature. “And yet they can’t get basic things done, like passing a transportation bill.”
Litz, who served on the metropolitan planning organization in her county, stressed the need for properly funding infrastructure. She also said the natural gas industry is “not paying its fair share of taxes,” both by incorporating out of the state and by not being required to pay a severance tax.
“Those are two big-ticket items that would help solve our problems,” said Litz, who added that she’d like to see the state capitalize on an overlooked industry: chocolate-making, which is done here by 76 companies.
“I’d love to be known as Pennsylvania, a state of chocolate,” Litz said.
Critz, of Johnstown, lost a bitter battle for the 12th District Congressional seat last year to Republican Keith Rothfus. He said his record as a tough campaigner and his time in Congress would serve him well as lieutenant governor. Also, he noted that being from Western Pennsylvania would balance well with the many gubernatorial hopefuls from the state’s eastern counties.
Smith, who described growing up in a mobile home and going to food banks with his grandparents, described himself as an example of the people whom Democrats’ philosophy is intended to help. After graduating from college and working as an industrial designer in Detroit, he moved home to Bradford County.
In 2008 at age 29, he was that county’s youngest commissioner chairman and only the second Democrat to hold the post.