Job training, the opioid epidemic and taxes were some of the topics covered during a forum this week for the candidates for the state Senate, 30th district.
The candidates were Republican Judy Ward and Democrat Emily Best. And the hosts were the Blair County Tea Party and the liberal Indivisible Blair County — organizations at opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Indivisible President Aaron Wagner said that type of forum means politicians have to speak to people with a broad range of opinions.
“In the current climate in Harrisburg and Washington, is that people seem to be having a hard time working together," he said, "and if we can do this here in the middle of Blair County, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to do it too.”
The 30th state Senate district includes all of Blair and Fulton counties and parts of Huntingdon, Cumberland Franklin counties. The incumbent, Republican John Eichelberger, did not run for reelection. He ran unopposed in 2010 and 2014.
It’s seen as a safely Republican seat. But, the event drew a crowd of people from across the political spectrum.
George Dempsie, of Williamsburg, said he wanted to be informed. He said he’s concerned about the environment.
“I think it’s wonderful the two different factions like this can come together," Dempsie said. "This is what America is all about, and not being divided.”
John Finamore, of Altoona, said he doesn’t miss voting in midterm elections.
“Right now we’re being taxed to hell and back," he said.
Finamore said he was disappointed in Gov. Tom Wolf for not getting money for the state from a tax on natural gas fracking.
He lives with his children and grandchildren, and said how the upcoming election turns out is very important.
“I believe Judy is very well spoken and well-liked in this area. I’d like to see what Emily has to offer," he said. "I’m open-minded. I like to hear a spirited debate, and I like to hear what both candidates have to offer.”
The candidates got to weigh in on a range of issues, including property rights, the dairy industry, education and taxes.
Ward said making Pennsylvania more business-friendly is a passion for her. The state, she said, has a high corporate tax rate and permitting takes too long.
“We need to be business-friendly, and in doing so we will attract jobs to our state, people will have employment, people will be off the welfare rolls and working.”
Best said if she is elected, reforming how the legislative districts are drawn would be a top priority.
“We’re going to have a hard time passing anything if communities are divided and legislators keep gerrymandering and picking their constituents and keeping us divided.”
Andrew Katz, of the Altoona area, said he hasn’t decided how he’ll vote.
“I enjoyed listening to both of them. I thought they’re both wonderful people and both would be very good for this state.”
The district is viewed as very Republican, something Best jokingly whispered about during her closing remarks: “I know that running — as a Democrat — doesn’t happen a lot around here."
But, she said the event helps bring democracy to life — a reason why she’s running.
Ward, who currently holds a seat in the state House, said the event gave people a chance to hear from the candidates.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to discuss issues and let the people decide where they stand on those issues,” she said.