Ahead of the Pennsylvania primary election, Centre County residents had the opportunity to hear from the Democratic candidates who are vying to represent the 12th and 15th congressional districts.
The candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives fielded questions from the public on topics ranging from the opioid crisis and incarceration rates to education and broadband access during Candidates' Night on Thursday at the State College municipal building.
Only candidates in contested primaries were invited to the forum, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Centre County.
Up first were the two candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the 12th District: Marc Friedenberg, of Ferguson Township, and Judy Herschel, of Susquehanna County.
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To end the opioid crisis, Herschel said communities need more governmental support to be able to provide all medical professionals with the overdose reversal drug Narcan and to increase funding for therapy and addiction treatment.
She said decreasing mass incarceration starts with legalizing marijuana and that many people are in prison for very “petty charges.”
Friedenberg also touched on decriminalization and the need to stop private prisons because they “create incentives to fill up the beds no matter whether a number of crimes have been committed or not.”
He also said he supports a federal initiative that would prevent employers from asking whether a potential employee has had a prior criminal conviction.
“It keeps too many people out of jobs …. They’ve served their time, and they ought to be able to get back into the workforce and contribute to our society again,” Friedenberg said.
The candidates also addressed the lack of broadband access in many rural parts of the district.
Friedenberg said companies like Comcast and Verizon are working to “systematically undermine municipal broadband efforts.” There needs to be more choice and competition to drive down cost and be able to dictate what level of privacy customers want, he said.
“This is discrimination to our rural areas,” Herschel said.
Next up were Wade Jodun, of Patton Township, and Susan Boser, of Indiana County, who will face off in the Democratic primary for the 15th District.
Boser said the top priority of her campaign is helping small businesses thrive. She said one of the best opportunities to grow local business in Pennsylvania is in the renewable energy field.
“Not only is it better for the environment, but I think there’s tremendous opportunity there economically,” she said.
Both candidates agreed that there are technical jobs available but not enough people with the necessary vocational training and skills to fill them.
“We have to reinvest in community colleges and vocational training because there are jobs out there,” Jodun said. “There is a skills gap — we need to be able to train our folks to fill those jobs.”
The winner of the 15th District Democratic primary will challenge incumbent U.S. Representative Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, in November.
The Republican primary for the 12th District is also contested. U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Williamsport, who represented the old 10th District, will face off against Doug McLinko, of Bradford County.
Both Marino and McLinko were invited to attend Candidates' Night, but for “various reasons” they each declined, according to LWVCC President Candace Dannaker.
The Pennsylvania primary election is May 15.