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Lt. Governor candidates discuss issues

Hoping to supplant Catherine Baker Knoll as the Democratic candidate for lieutenant
governor of Pennsylvania, three Democrats gathered in Hamburg Hall last Wednesday to outline their views and discuss their qualifications.

Candidates William Hall III, Valerie McDonald Roberts, and Gene Stilp participated in the debate, which Knoll, the current lieutenant governor, did not attend.

In a letter to Suzanne Broughton, president of the League of Women Voters and coordinator of the debates, Knoll explained that her schedule had to remain open for events in the capital, leaving her no time to travel to Pittsburgh.

The expert panel in charge of questioning the candidates consisted of dean Mark Wessel of the Heinz School, dean Carolyn Ban of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and Tim Stevens, chairman and founder of the Black Political Empowerment Project.

Hall, a contractor originally from Florida, got interested in politics when Ross Perot ran for President with the Reform Party. Hall focused on Medicaid reform and property tax relief as the two main planks in his platform.

“I wanted to see change in this country. I feel that people were unfairly represented,” Hall said, stressing the need for common people to get involved in politics. “This should be a country of the people, not of the politicians.”

Roberts, the Allegheny County recorder of deeds, is the first black woman to be elected to countywide office. If she wins the election for lieutenant governor, she will be the first black person elected to a statewide, non-judicial office.

“It is not about the party. It is not about me. It is about the people. It is about how I can serve the people in the best interest of the people,” Roberts said.

Stilp, of Harrisburg, is a lobbyist and political activist who has been lauded by Ralph Nader for his use of large pieces of art to call attention to public policy issues.

“I like the practice of legislation — creating the fabric of legislation,” Stilp said. “I have the leadership skills, the vision, and the courage to promote that vision.”

When Ban raised concerns that the candidates might split the votes and end up losing the election, Hall answered that he and Stilp had discussed stepping down to reduce the number of candidates.

“We discussed that one of us should do that, but neither one of us probably would do that,” Hall said.
Roberts reminded the audience that she was the first to announce that she would be challenging Knoll.

One of the constitutional duties of the lieutenant governor is to preside over the State Senate, which prompted panelist Mark Wessel to raise concerns over the current legislature’s size and effectiveness.

According to Stilp, the legislature is “out of control.” Given its cost to taxpayers, Stilp argued, it may be time to think about adjusting the size of legislature.

“If the legislature were a corporation, it would be bankrupt, and the heads of the legislature would be in jail,” Stilp said.

Hall and Roberts took a more moderate stance on the issue. According to Hall, the issue is not so much the size of the legislature but the effectiveness of the representation, which he thinks could use some work.

For Roberts, the issue is a double-edged sword. She explained that reducing the size of the legislature would make it hard for rural voters to communicate with their representatives.

“They don’t get the chance to interact with their representatives and elected officials in the same way people from urban areas do,” Roberts said, indicating that such rural voters could use even more representation than they already have.

Candidates also disagreed on what role the lieutenant governor actually plays in the government.

According to Roberts, the lieutenant governorship is a “bully pulpit” because it is an elected position. She plans to use her position in part to increase the number of women and minorities in government positions.

“My vision is to make sure that the office is not just ceremonial,” said Roberts, who sees the lieutenant governorship as a “role of advocacy.”

Stilp disagreed. “It is crucial to realize that the lieutenant governor has to be in the boat with the governor,” he said. “If the lieutenant governor goes out and starts his own programs, that could have a disruptive influence on the governor.”

The event was a joint venture between the Heinz School, the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, the Black Political Empowerment Project, and the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh.

Primary elections for Lieutenant Governor are on May 16.