Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial and senate races took center stage, literally, Monday night at the 38th Annual Pennsylvania Chamber Dinner, held at a packed and bipartisan Hershey Lodge.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Republican U.S. Senatorial candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz met with chamber president and CEO Luke Bernstein in separate “Fireside Chat”-style conversations of approximately 30 minutes each. The chamber invited Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano in the hope of hosting debates, but Oz and Shapiro were the only two candidates to accept.
“We’re honored and excited to provide an opportunity for these two candidates to answer some of the pressing questions that are on Pennsylvanians’ minds as they prepare to head to the polls on Tuesday, November 8,” Bernstein said. “Informing the electorate is a critical aspect of a well-functioning democracy, and the Pennsylvania Chamber has long used our Dinner as a fair and open forum for candidates from both parties to present their vision for the future of the Commonwealth.”
Prior to Oz and Shapiro appearing onstage, political commentators Donna Brazile, former Democratic National Chair, and Chris Christie, former New Jersey Governor, engaged in a point-counterpoint moderated by ABC 27 News Anchor Dennis Owens. Brazile and Christie talked about the key role Pennsylvania plays in national politics and offered their thoughts on the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election.
Oz has based his candidacy in part on the claim that Fetterman, the Lt. Governor, is soft on crime. He returned to that theme Monday night in Hershey, telling his audience that Pennsylvania cities like Philadelphia have become unsafe and ridden with dangerous drugs, fentanyl among them.
With Fetterman absent from Monday’s debate, Oz said he would ask him, “Why does he seem to care more about the criminals than the innocent who are hurt?” Oz said Fetterman’s stance on crime in Pennsylvania’s communities has adversely affected law enforcement officials, signaling to them, Oz stated, “that they don’t really matter.”
Shapiro spoke with Bernstein about strengthening law enforcement, reducing taxes, and investing in Pennsylvania’s workforce. He described these initiatives as “hardly partisan” issues.
“I’m talking about hiring 2,000 more police officers across Pennsylvania, putting Vo-Tech into our high school classrooms so we can create a pipeline of workers for tomorrow, and making sure that we cut our business taxes and grow our economy,” Shapiro said. “These are hardly things that are partisan.”
Brazile and Christie spoke to the importance of debates in a democracy and were critical of both Fetterman and Mastriano for not participating.
“Debates are very important because it’s an opportunity for us to exchange ideas, find out where the candidates stand, find out if there are some differences, perhaps some issues that they don’t agree on,” said Brazile. “But more importantly, I think it gives the voters and those who will be making the decisions on election day, the opportunity to get one last opportunity to see what the candidates are really made of.”
Christie agreed. “I think when the bright lights go on in a debate, one of two things happen. You either shine or you melt. It’s a really important thing… You see whether people are up to (the task) or not, and you have an opportunity to challenge them. And I think that both candidates who did not show up tonight made a mistake and a disservice to the people of the commonwealth.”