Candidates for the House of Representatives Pa. 122nd District and 17th Congressional District appeared before a large audience during a program held Thursday night at Penn's Peak Jim Thorpe. The program was broadcast live on Blue Ridge Communications TV 13.
The event was sponsored by the Lehighton 9/12 Project. The moderator was Kim Bell, general manager of Blue Ridge Communications TV 13.
The first 45 minutes involved the two Carbon County candidates, Doyle Heffley and Ron Rabenold.
Heffley, the incumbent, is running on the Republican ticket and Rabenold is the Democratic candidate.
Most of the questions were asked by a panel of reporters: Sharon Gaeta, TV-13; Ron Gower, TIMES NEWS; and Kerry Dowd, WMGH/WLSH radio. Other questions were submitted by the audience, and read by Bell.
Heffley was elected to the 122nd State Legislature District covering Carbon County in 2010.
He was named to serve as secretary of the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee, and he is a member of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, the House Human Services Committee and the House Transportation Committee.
Heffley is a graduate of Lehighton Area High School and Lincoln Technical Institute, where he received his associate degree in architectural drafting and design. Before his election as state representative he worked as a consultant in the trucking industry.
He and his wife, Kellie, have two daughters and live in Palmerton.
Rabenold is a lifelong resident of Lehighton and is the Democratic candidate for the 122nd Legislative District seat.
He is a school teacher for 21 years and was named to the State Professional Standards and Practices Commission and has also served in various leadership capacities for the Lehighton area teachers.
Rabenold is founder and coordinator of the Lehighton Area Book Swap, an event in its eighth year that has enabled more than 80,000 books to be recirculated among children and adults in the area.
He and his wife Kimberly have two sons.
Heffley won the coin toss and allowed his opponent to take the lead and open the debate with his statement.
Rabenold said he believes that it is important to take care of the community.
He said he learned diplomacy from his mother and a good work ethic from his father, who worked swing shift at Bethlehem Steel. Heffley said he was proud of his efforts the past two years as a representative. He has sponsored bills and has brought a veterans van to Lehighton once a month.
Asking the first question was Gaeta who wanted to know how difficult it was for Heffley to open a district office.
Heffley noted that he opened his office using a smaller budget and offered services in less than a month.
Gower asked the next question regarding employment in the county.
Rabenold said that he believes that employment in the coal industry could be the future, but his next focus was to have local people educated as a long-term goal.
Heffley suggested that frivolous lawsuits are part of the problem since that has increased costs; he also suggested that training for service orientated jobs, such as being a plumber, should be pursued in addition to technical innovation jobs.
Dowd asked Heffley whether he believed more funds should be devoted to bridges and roads and asked him whether the gas tax should be raised.
Heffley said that paying more at the pump is crippling the economy and the nation. He suggested that funds set aside in the budget for state police be shifted back to help pay for roads and bridges. He said repairing roads and bridges will not happen overnight. He said he is not in favor of selling the turnpike or tolling I-80.
Rabenold rebutted by asking why should the local people pay for something they never use. Rabenold said that the local economy is being impacted because the McCall bridge is inadequate.
Gaeta asked Rabenold about pay raises for teachers and representatives. Rabenold responded that he worked for several years as a teacher without a contract because his intentions are for the best interest of the children.
Heffley said that his pay raise is given back to local charities. He said he vetoed the state budget and stood up to the governor.
Gower asked Heffley, about retaining the existing prevailing wage law and how that impacts local jobs. Heffley said he is in favor of the prevailing wage law because union workers offer craftsmanship.
Heffley noted that there must be prevailing wages paid on any project involving federal dollars.
Rabenold said that any budget cuts to the state eventually shift to the local level.
Dowd asked Rabenold to explain how unfunded mandates by state and federal agencies impact taxpayers.
Rabenold said that unfunded mandates shift burdens to local taxpayers and impact everyone. He said there is not one single community in Carbon County which is meeting its budget. He said all the communities are in the red.
Heffley said that the biggest issue isn't mandates but frivolous lawsuits and the need to repeal the property tax.
Gaeta asked Heffley about funding for education.
Heffley said that the cost of buildings is not what is driving up the cost of education, but the costs of the salaries. Heffley noted that there needs to be a solid teacher evaluation at the local level.
Rabenold said that teacher evaluations are not the answer.
Gower asked Rabenold about tax reform.
Rabenold said that the tax reform bill does not cut taxes for the lower class.
Heffley rebutted that the plan to shift property taxes to a sales tax will reform property taxes. He said that the Pennsylvania State Education Association does not want property tax reform because they like having the income from property taxes. He said people in Carbon County cannot sell homes because of the high taxes.
Dowd asked Heffley whether he was in favor of reducing the number of people in the House of Representatives. Heffley said he would like it reduced from 253 to 153. He said he has turned down the state vehicle, turned down per diems, and stays in a low budget hotel when in Harrisburg.
Rabenold's said that you can't afford to cut adult services, because many families are working two and three jobs.
He believes that there should be more technical innovative training.
Bell then asked how candidates would vote on Pennsylvania becoming a Right to Work state?
Responding was Heffley who said that the Right to Work state worked in Florida. He said it brought economic growth and job creation.
Rabenold said he was opposed. He said the job creators' agenda doesn't work for everyone.
"If the middle class erodes, there will be too many people out of work," said Rabenold. "We can't afford that."
The next question posed by Bell questioned liquor stores being privatized.
Rabenold said that they should not be privatized because it is a good moneymaker for the state and having state stores in charge of alcohol prevents it getting in underage hands. He said that 3,500 jobs would be lost.
Heffley said that 70 percent of alcohol is already sold privately and that teenagers are not easily finding alcohol now. Heffley said that privatizing state stores would create new jobs.
Each candidate then concluded with statements asking for the public's support in the Nov. 6 election.
Also appearing Thursday night was Laureen Cummings, candidate for 17th Congressional District. She is a nurse and small business owner from Old Forge, who spent more than 20 years in health care administration.
Her opponent, Matthew Cartwright, was unable to take part in the debate.
She believes that the costs for health care need to be reigned in and could be accomplished with less waste. She also spoke on foreign policy and believes that the security of our heroes should be increased.
She believes that health care should be taken out of the government's hands and put into the free market.