Forum of MontCo Democratic candidates for Congress yields few differences

Congressional candiates answer simple yes or no questions at the Democratic congressional debate for the new Pennsylvania 4th Congressional district. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

Congressional candiates answer simple yes or no questions at the Democratic congressional debate for the new Pennsylvania 4th Congressional district. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

With little more than a week before the Pennsylvania primary, Democrats running for the congressional seat for Montgomery County agree on most points.

One of the few areas where the candidates offered differences during a candidate forum at Montgomery County Community College Sunday night was their top legislative priority.

State Rep. Madeleine Dean says her focus is education, starting with universal pre-K through higher education.

Madeleine Dean is running for the new PA 4th Congressional district. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

“I would fight for — and it’s appropriate that we’re right here — free community colleges,” she said. “I’ve been proud to support this community college in our budgets, and the third thing I would fight for is interest-free student loans and also modification of the current student loan debt.”

She says education is interconnected to other issues such as the economy and the environment.

The newly-drawn Fourth District covers most of Montgomery County and a portion of Berks County.

Shira Goodman, who has taken a leave of absence as executive director of CeaseFirePA to run for Congress, says gun violence prevention would be her focus. That would include things like closing background check loopholes, reinstating the assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004 and high-capacity magazine ban.

Shira Goodman is running for the new PA 4th Congressional district. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

“What do we with those millions of weapons that are out there? Well, we can regulate them,” she said. “We’ve done this before in 1934. We regulated machine guns. That’s why you don’t see them anywhere except in movies. We could do this.”

She says this isn’t a single issue for her, but a signature one.

Goodman says she’d also like to see the laws change regarding the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives prohibited by law from creating a computerized database of gun owners or firearms.

The forum was hosted by Citizens for Equality Action Network and Indivisible Whitpain.

Former Congressman Joe Hoeffel says Democrats need to be socially liberal but fiscally conservative.

Joe Hoeffel is running for the new PA 4th Congressional district. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

“Because if we don’t have a sustainable government revenue stream, we won’t have the money to fund any of the things we want to fund,” he said. “We’re going deeper and deeper in debt and we won’t have money for public schools or healthcare or environmental protection, all the things we feel are so important.”

He says Democrats need to focus on a balanced budget done in a progressive way.

“The Republicans will do it in a conservative way, shred social safety nets and probably cut taxes for the wealthy again and save their balanced budget deficits,” Hoeffel said. “I’m proud of that we can reverse those tax cuts that game a ridiculous amount of unneeded help to the wealthy and to corporate America.”

He says he’d also like to reform military spending and reverse the Trump tax cuts.

“We are putting too much money into the military,” he said. “The number two spender China, we outspend China 3 to 1. We outspend Russia 9 to 1. I know it’s a dangerous world. But you’ve got to have the right balance.”

Dean, Goodman and Hoeffel all agreed campaign finance reform was needed and that U.S. Supreme Court ruling Citizens United should be reversed.

“It starts with me,” said Dean. “This is a question of personal ethics. Public service should not be about getting more for yourself.  It’s related to public finance…I would enhance those limitations, those reporting requirements. It’s all about accountability and transparency.”

Another issue posed to the trio was whether they’d take a “no fossil fuel money” pledge and support the Off Fossil Fuels Act that supports moving away from relying on oil, gas and other fossil fuels.

Goodman says she would sign on as a co-sponsor.

“I think this is a good solid science-based, evidence-based bill,” she said. “What I like about it is not only its plans for getting to renewable energy efficiency and getting off of fossil fuel dependency, but it takes into account job retraining and placement for displaced workers which it is a very important thing when you talk about changing an industry. And it also talks about environmental justice. It understands and recognizes that a lot of the environmental impacts are on poor and minority communities and talks about those cleanups.”

All three supported moving toward renewable energy sources, Off Fossil Fuels Act, and against accepting money from the fossil fuel industry.

Dean says methane gas poses a grave danger.

“Methane gas is 84 percent more heat-trapping than carbon dioxide,” she said. “It is something that is causing the heating of our environment. And the methane gas often comes from and is coming from fracking. This is one of the critical issues of our time. That we have this precious resource underground that the industry is taking for great profit. The state is failing to tax. The federal government is eroding the EPA regulations, EPA federal dollars.”

A speed round during the forum, included a moderator asking 25 questions and the candidates holding up red or green signs for yes or no answers.

The primary election is Tuesday, May 15th.

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