For more than 50 years, the Centre County League of Women Voters has hosted an event that provides community members the opportunity to ask their local representatives questions on issues that matter to them.
On Thursday night, the league hosted Candidates’ Night, which featured a debate-style forum at the State College Municipal Building.
Audience members were asked to write down questions, which were then posed to the candidates by a moderator. Each pair responded to eight questions, with each candidate having 90 seconds to answer a question. Candidates also offered closing statements.
The candidates included state Rep. Rich Irvin, R-Spruce Creek, and challenger Rick Rogers; U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, and challenger Kerith Strano Taylor; state Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, and challenger Stephanie Borowicz; and state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, and challenger Melody Fleck.
The event was filmed by C-NET and will be available on its website through Election Day on Nov. 8.
Voters questioned the candidates on a variety of subjects, such as putting party politics aside, the opioid epidemic and raising the minimum wage.
Strano Taylor and Thompson discussed how they would reduce gun violence, a question posed by Cindy Petrick, of State College.
Thompson suggested focusing on real issues and staying away from the political divide on the issue. He said the country has a culture of violence, and more mental health help is needed. He also said that terrorism is a factor.
Strano Taylor said mass violence isn’t a problem in this area, but there is a high rate of suicide by gun.
She said there needs to be a conversation about guns that doesn’t involve the NRA.
Petrick said she thought both candidates answered the question well, but she didn’t hear the commitment she wanted to on measurable results.
Several candidates were also asked if they supported their party’s nominee for president. Strano Taylor and Rogers both said they support Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“I love Hillary,” Rogers said.
If her opponent wins, he said, the country would be going backward.
Strano Taylor said that though she was a Bernie Sanders supporter in the primary, Clinton won her over with her experience, years of service and the way she’s handled Republican nominee Donald Trump with grace.
Irvin said he supports Trump.
“He brings a breath of fresh air,” Irvin said, adding that Trump has brought an enthusiasm to politics he hasn’t seen before.
Thompson said this presidential campaign creates “heartburn” for him — he doesn’t like either candidate. But he said he’s weighing Trump’s words with Clinton’s actions.
He stressed, though, that the congressional race is important because it’s up to Congress to keep the checks and balances in place with whoever becomes president.
Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619; @SarahRafacz