Editorâ€™s note: This is the first of a two-part series.
A sizable crowd gathered inside The Red Fern in St. Marys on Monday evening during a much-anticipated political debate between State Rep. Matt Gabler, R-Elk/Clearfield, and Frank Straub, Democratic candidate for the 75th Legislative District in the state House.
The debate was hosted by the Elk County Tea Party. Radio host Dave Parsons of The River 98.9 acted as moderator for the event, while Mark Wagner, Tea Party spokesman, was the chairman of the forum.
Tea Party organizer Blaise Dornisch welcomed all in attendance and opened the event with the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer and recognition of any military veterans in attendance.
â€śThis is by far the most intense midterm election I can remember,â€ť said Parsons during his opening comments.
Each candidate offered opening and closing comments during the 1.5-hour debate, which was aired on three local radio stations.
â€śI want to change the direction of government. The to-do list in Harrisburg has been neglected far too long,â€ť Straub began. â€śI want to stand up for small businesses, as they are the engine of our economy; protect our drinking water; and end political perks.â€ť
Straub continued that Harrisburg insiders are standing in the way.
â€śMy opponentâ€™s record shows an insider spent over $130,000 to put Gabler in office. People deserve a representative who stands up for us, not the Harrisburg insiders,â€ť he added. â€śI plan to show how much his votes have hurt Elk County.â€ť
Gabler began his comments by stating he has been honored and blessed to serve as a state representative.
â€śItâ€™s been energizing to meet and speak with people one-on-one,â€ť Gabler said. â€śThere is no shortage of issues to tackle in Harrisburg.â€ť
Gabler noted that he had the opportunity to testify in front of the Federal Highway Commission in Washington in December 2009, along with other Pa. state representatives, to stop the tolling plan for Interstate 80, which was a successful endeavor.
â€śI am honored to be endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), PA Pro-Life Federation, Farm Bureau Political Action Committee and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which granted me the Guardian of Small Business Award for 2009-10,â€ť Gabler said.
Throughout the debate, questions were posed to the candidates about such issues as how to bring Pennsylvania back from the brink of bankruptcy and stem the loss of population, their plans on how to create jobs within the state, how to restore powers to the states and limit the authority of federal government, how to redesign the welfare system and change the unemployment compensation situation, why they each chose to pursue a career in politics, and how they plan to address the issue of the Marcellus Shale development and the effects of the federal healthcare system.
Questions submitted by members of the Tea Party and the audience were also addressed at the conclusion of the debate.
In closing, Straub asked for votersâ€™ support.
â€śI am willing to work with both sides to find solutions,â€ť Straub said. â€śI have a plan to create local jobs and have the business experience necessary to put that to work.â€ť
Gabler concluded that he brings leadership skills, which he said he acquired as a commander in the U.S. Army Reserves, to his current position. He emphasized that he will push to limit government as a constitutional government and be held accountable to the people he serves.
â€śWe need to use your money more efficiently and not ask you for more,â€ť Gabler said.