Wagner, Conklin Rally Democrats For Primary
Citing the submission of seven late state budgets over the past seven years and calling that a “symptom of a government that is politically paralyzed,” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Wagner told Fulton County Democrats, “you need a governor who can change that.”
Wagner, who has gained the endorsement of local party Chairman Rheon Gelvin, was the guest speaker at the Fulton County spring Democratic dinner held Saturday evening at the Hustontown Firehall. Nearly 75 Democrats and their guests attended the banquet, which featured speakers Wagner and Scott Conkllin. Wagner currently serves as Pennsylvania’s auditor general, while Conklin, who is a candidate for lieutenant governor, is a state representative from Centre County’s 77th Legislative District.
During his remarks, Wagner touted his accomplishments as auditor general and said that, elected, he would strive to preside over a “state government with no fraud, no waste and no abuse.” Wagner cited his willingness to take on an audit of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) as evidence of his commitment to weeding out waste and abuse. He said the results of his audit showed extravagant trips taken by the PHEAA board members and employees, and he said $7.5 million dollars had been paid in bonuses over a three-year period. “Today,” he said, “there are no more PHEAA bonuses.”
He also said that his audit of the Department of Public Welfare showed that more than $300 million could be saved if medical assistance fraud would be properly addressed. However, he said, his recommendations for corrections have been largely ignored by the administration.
Wagner said, if elected, he would reinstate competitive bidding on state contracts and he would push for campaign finance reform in Pennsylvania. “I’m not happy with this government,” he said, “We need to change the status quo.”
He also spoke about making job creation and job retention his top priority along with making Pennsylvania an energy leader. Wagner, a former state senator, was elected in 2004 to succeed Robert Casey as auditor general.
A decorated Vietnam U.S. Marine veteran, Wagner, a Pittsburgh native, is a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and has a degree in safety management. He told the audience “I am the only Democratic candidate for governor who is not an attorney.”
Wagner faces challenges in the May primary from Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, Montgomery County Commissioner and former U.S. Rep. Joe Hoeffel and state Sen. Anthony Williams of Philadelphia.
Earlier this year, Wagner received the most votes for endorsement from the state Democratic Party, but none of the four candidates were able to gather the two-thirds of the votes needed for the state party endorsement. Wagner told the “News” that “in a field of four candidates, it is very difficult to get two-thirds of the votes.” He also said, “I plan to be back to Fulton County quite often.”
He and his wife, Nancy, are the parents of two children.
Scott Conklin stressed the need to receive mid-state votes, saying, “we need your votes, we need a turnout, we need to win west of Harrisburg in the heartland.”
A former Centre County commissioner, Conklin told the crowd, “Democrats do things better.” He said that since World War II, “every Republican came in with a budget surplus and left with a deficit, while every Democrat came in with a deficit and left with a surplus.”
Conklin described himself as the son of a man who delivered bread and a woman who scrubbed floors for a living, “so I know what hard work is like,” he said. As a state representative, he serves on the Education, Appropriations, Environment, Agriculture and Budget and Finance Committees.
He and his wife, Terri, and their son reside in Phillipsburg.
In addition to Fulton County, Conklin also picked up endorsements in Dauphin and Westmoreland counties last week. He faces opposition in the primary election from former Philadelphia city controller Jonathan Saidel and from retired Commonwealth Court Judge Doris Smith-Ribner.
Following dinner and remarks from the two candidates, Ayr Township committeeperson Joy Dasher spoke about Senate Bill 400, the Family & Business Healthcare Security Act, which would establish healthcare for all Pennsylvanians.
The bill, according to Dasher, would address the 1.5 million Pennsylvanians who are uninsured and the 2 million more who are underinsured. Some of the benefits touted by the plan include: quality healthcare for all; patient choice of physician( s); patient and doctor determine the best course of treatment; no denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions; and no need for Medicare supplemental coverage. It would establish a statewide version of single-payer insurance.
Dasher also pointed to the savings that could be realized in Fulton County. She said that governments (including the county, townships and schools) spent $3,313,000 on employee insurance costs that under the new bill would have cost $1.5 million. Dasher also told the story of a couple she knows who spent 40 percent of their income on medical expenses. Under the new bill, if passed, it would have cost them about 4 percent of their income.
Dasher said the bill is supported by 34 of 50 state senators including 20 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The bill was referred to the Banking/Insurance Committee and an economic impact study is now being done to determine the actual fiscal impact of the legislation. Wagner told the “News” that he will wait for the results of the impact study prior to making a final decision on whether or not to support the legislation.
Elected party officials in attendance included Commissioner David Hoover, former commissioners Donald Bard and Ellis Yingling and county auditor Phyllis Bard. Also in attendance were party chair, Rheon Gelvin, Vice Chair Joy Dasher, secretary/ treasurer Pauline Lynch and state committee member David Gourley. Todd Township Committeeman James Butts served as master of ceremonies.
April 19 is the last day to register before the primary election on May 18.