by Nathan Traini
Staff Writer and Reporter
NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – Local politicians came to Penn State New Kensington to answer questions, in a panel format, put forth by a group called My Vote Matters on Oct. 4, 2016.
My Vote Matters is a non-partisan student run organization which put the Diplomatic Discussion together. The leader of the group is Millie Brasser, an immigrant from Peru who is passionate for democracy in action.
The politicians included State Rep. Joseph Petrarca (Dem.), Mayor of New Kensington Thomas Guzzo (Dem.), candidate for the 12th Congressional District Erin McClelland(Dem.), State Rep. Eli Evankovich(Rep.), candidate for Pennsylvania House District 55 Michael Geiselhart(Rep.), and communications director for congressman Keith Rothfus, Blake Gober(Rep.). The attendees answered questions that ranged from topics like student loan debt to the environment.
This panel was exciting because there were four people running against each other. Michael Geiselhart was and still is running against Joseph Petrarca, and Erin McClelland is running against Blake Gober’s boss Keith Rothfus.
Having three people representing each party and their ideas, added weight to the evening. This balance made everyone feel more comfortable, the politicians, the audience, and the faculty. They were split down the middle with Republicans on the right (Evankovich, Geiselhart, Gober) and the Democrats (Petrarca, Guzzo, McClelland) on the left.
The tension was palpable while each person articulated their answers to the first question of student loan debt. Geiselhart and Gober both expressed the need for cutting extravagant spending to ease the burden of future students.
“Student loan debt is a state issue… the federal government should not be involved in any project that the constitution doesn’t already give it express permission to deal with” said Gober.
McClelland had a different perspective saying that the federal government is already involved. “Student loans absolutely have a federal component,” said McClellan. She then went on to explain that the interest rates on student loans provide capital to the gov. and how morally wrong that is.
Evankovich was alone in his perspective on student loan debt. He compared loans for an education with loans for a house or a car. ”Lending for student loans must be done based on what the value of an education is,” said Evankovich. “An engineering major should be able to borrow more for their degree because that degree is gonna bring in more than somebody who goes to school to learn about history.”
“Higher levels of education are associated with a wide range of positive outcomes – including better health and wellbeing, higher social trust, greater political interest, lower political cynicism, and less hostile attitudes towards immigrants.” from the Economic and social research council.
Both parties’ answers did not cover the fact that tuition is increasing and results are going down because of less state funding for education and the substitution of full time professors with adjuncts.
The question of protecting the environment was posed and nobody denied that it was a problem. It was a relief to hear both parties accept basic climate science. Guzzo showed off his city of New Kensington as a environmentally friendly place to live. “New Kensington has five community gardens,” said Guzzo.
Petrarca’s position was that the environment is an important issue and we should consider global warming as real. “We need to do more in terms of recycling,” said Petrarca. “People do want to recycle and I think we need do what we can to make it easier for them to do that. Government needs to reach out and help industries that are getting into alternative energy.”
Geiselhart’s stance was on individuals doing their part like having personal gardens and natural food without additives and things of that nature. “Look at chickens that are three times the size of normal chickens with barely with any bones, and that’s what you’re eating,” said Geiselhart. There were other pressing environmental issues he talked about as well. “Not even 10, 15 miles away in Apollo and Leechburg there’s nuclear waste in the ground…we came in to clean it up and they said wow the problem is worse than we thought and closed it back up.”
Gober says there are needs for environmental regulations, since the current regulations are 70 years old. Citing the massive advancements in technology and building, Gober implied the regulations are out of date.
The Republican stance on the environment was that essentially because of our strict regulations that hurt business, those businesses left, and are now under governments without environmental regulations.
Geiselhart was the only Republican candidate who offered a solution to the complex issue of climate change. “We need to look at this on more of a U.N. resolution,” said Geiselhart, referring to the problem of the world’s most carbon using goods being produced in countries without much environmental regulations.
The Democratic position on the environment is to invest in easier methods to recycle and new alternative energy sources. McClelland addressed the environmental conservation question thinking about our health. “Things happening with the health and wellness of our children, as they grow up based on that amount of toxins they are exposed to now versus what my parents were exposed to or my grandparents,” she said.