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Take Note: WPSU talks with three gubernatorial candidates in the crowded Republican primary

Gale Hart McSwain
Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, former Congresswoman and state Senator Melissa Hart and former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain are three of the Republicans competing in Pennsylvania's 2022 primary for their party's nomination to be governor.

Pennsylvania’s primary election is May 17, and this year, voters will pick their nominee for governor. On the Democratic side, the race is not competitive. Attorney General Josh Shapiro is the only candidate on the ballot. But on the Republican side, eight candidates are vying for their party’s nomination to be governor. There had been nine candidates, but Senate President Pro Tem Jake Corman announced Thursday he was dropping out of the race. WPSU invited all the candidates for interviews leading up to the primary. On this week's Take Note, WPSU's Anne Danahy talked with Bill McSwain, Melissa Hart and Joe Gale, starting with Bill McSwain.

Update: Melissa Hart announced Friday that she was dropping out of the race. Like Corman, she said she is supporting Republican Lou Barletta.

Anne Danahy 
Bill McSwain, thank you so much for talking with us.

Bill McSwain 
Thanks for having me.

Anne Danahy 
You're a former U.S. attorney and a Marine veteran from Chester County. And you're also one of about nine candidates in the race. You all agree on some of the issues. What sets you apart from the other candidates?

Bill McSwain 
Well, one of the things that sets me apart is what you mentioned, I'm the only Marine in the race, and I bring a mission-oriented Marines mentality to fixing a lot of the problems that we're facing as a state. I'm also the only prosecutor in the race. As you mentioned, I'm a former United States attorney, I was appointed by President Trump to be the chief federal law enforcement officer in the eastern part of the state during his administration. And perhaps most importantly, I'm the only leading candidate who is a conservative outsider. I have never run for office before. The other leading candidates are all politicians. They're all folks that are essentially running on promises they've already broken. And I am different. I am the conservative outsider in the race.

Anne Danahy 
How do you see yourself as an outsider, because I could see someone looking at and saying you've worked for the government before, that's not an outsider.

Bill McSwain 
I've lived a life of public service. That's different from being a politician. I'm an outsider, because I've never run for office before. I don't owe anybody in Harrisburg anything, or anybody in D.C. or anybody else. In politics, I'm in this purely for one reason to serve the people of Pennsylvania not to serve my own political career. I'm not some political climber, like a lot of the other politicians are. I'm clearly the only conservative outsider who has a chance to win this race.

Anne Danahy 
And why do you see yourself as the one who could win the race? I suppose you're talking about the general election in November?

Bill McSwain 
Well, I'm actually talking about both. There's a handful of candidates who are towards the top of the polls, I'm one of them. And my campaign has been steadily going up over the last three months. It has the momentum, it has the right trendline. And the idea is to peak on May 17, on the primary and I'm very confident that we're going to do that and we're going to win, and then when we face Josh Shapiro in the fall, it's important to create a contrast and I provide a really strong contrast with him. I'm a conservative, he's a liberal. I'm someone who believes in individual rights and freedoms. He believes in government control, and mandates. I'm an outsider. He's a career politician who's just been climbing the political ladder is his entire career. I'm an experienced real prosecutor. He's essentially a politician masquerading as a law enforcement officer. He's never actually prosecuted a single case in his life. And I'm a Marine, and he's definitely not so there's a lot of contrast between Josh Shapiro and me and I think what Pennsylvania needs and what Pennsylvania wants right now is a conservative outsider.

Anne Danahy 
You had asked former President Donald Trump for his endorsement in this race, and instead he said he would not be endorsing you. And then he criticized you for not taking action on his false claims of election fraud. Do you still consider yourself to be a Trump supporter?

Bill McSwain I would say that I'm very proud of my record as U.S. attorney, and I was proud to serve in his administration, and proud that he appointed me and entrusted me with a very important job. There's really no more important job than public safety. And that's what I was responsible for. In a district of about 6 million people, about half the population of the state. I put rioters and looters in jail when Philadelphia rioted in the summer of 2020. I stopped heroin injection sites, from invading Pennsylvania neighborhoods, I put corrupt public officials in jail. I put violent criminals in jail when the district attorney of Philadelphia, Larry Krasner, refused to do his job. I fought back against Philadelphia's dangerous sanctuary city policies. And I'm the only candidate with any law enforcement experience. And I think that's important, especially with so many areas of the Commonwealth, that are suffering through a public safety crisis right now.

Anne Danahy 
What about the Donald Trump part of that question, though. Do you still see yourself as a supporter of him or what he stands for?

Bill McSwain 
I thought he was an excellent president, I thought that his policies did a lot of good for the nation and for Pennsylvania. And certainly when it comes to the law and order agenda, I was proud to to serve his law and order agenda, and I support his law and order agenda. Absolutely.

Anne Danahy 
And you've been a critic of teachers unions, and a supporter of more school choice for parents that would let them choose where to send their children. What would you say to a taxpayer who says I don't want my tax dollars going to a private school.

Bill McSwain 
Choice does not mean that public education is not a choice. I'm a product of public education, I support public education. So what school choice does, it puts the money in the hands of the families, and then they can make the right choice for their family, which very well could include public education. If your public school down the block is functioning — well, great, go to your public school. My kids have gone to public schools, and my wife and I went to public schools. But if the public school down the block isn't functioning, we don't want children to be trapped in a failing public school. If you give them choice, that's going to bring competition and accountability to education, which is going to raise everybody's game, including the public schools. And then you'll have a choice between the public school, a private school, a parochial school, a charter school, maybe even homeschooling. Competition is something that always results in a better product or a better service at a lower price. And we need to introduce that common sense concept into something like education, because it's one of the most important things in our society. So we need to bring all of those common sense principles that work in all aspects of our society, we need to bring that to education as well.

Anne Danahy 
And you said you want to overturn Act 77, which was bipartisan legislation that passed before the COVID 19 pandemic, making it easier to vote by mail. And you've said Act 77 caused chaos and confusion. For a lot of voters, though it meant not having to stand in line. And that was particularly important during the pandemic. Why do you think Pennsylvania can't do this or shouldn't do it?

Bill McSwain 
Well, the first reason that it can't do it or shouldn't do it is that it's unconstitutional. And right now there's a Commonwealth Court decision that says it's unconstitutional. So we are currently laboring under a system of our elections that is unconstitutional, and that causes people to lose faith in the system. So it is unconstitutional in my mind, but if the act still exists, when I'm governor, I would work to repeal it. I don't think we need to have the unnecessary confusion and chaos of mail-in ballots. I don't think it is an unreasonable burden for people to actually go to the polls. But we need to make sure that we're also funding our election system so that there aren't super long lines at the polls. And one thing I would also consider is making election day a holiday — having more people participate in the election. And I believe in the sanctity of the voting booth, nobody in the voting booth can influence you, nobody in the voting booth can fill out your ballot for you or even suggest how you fill it out. Nobody can illegally collect it for you. As Governor Wolf even gave his ballot to his wife illegally and had her drop it off for him illegally. All of that confusion and complication and illegality goes away when you have the sanctity of the voting booth. If people are out of town or they're unable to get to the polls or because of physical infirmities or, or other conflicts, or if they're of course, if you're in the military, of course you can vote absentee. That's fine. But millions of able bodied, present Pennsylvanians should not be mailing in their ballots. I think it's actually a good way to participate in democracy to leave your home and go to the polls and see your neighbors and and see the candidates and actually participate in democracy.

Anne Danahy 
In a few sentences, what would you say your top priority is, if you are elected governor?

Bill McSwain 
My No. 1 priority is safeguarding and protecting Pennsylvanians' freedoms. Freedoms have been violated, they've been taken away, our government is too big, it is too intrusive. We need to make sure that we protect freedom and individual rights, and we need to — all related to that is protecting public safety, getting our economy moving and coming out of this pandemic and having Pennsylvania be an economic leader instead of an economic laggard. And connected to that as well is school choice. Because when we when we prepare our children for the future by making sure that they have true educational opportunity. And then fourth, I would say election integrity is a very important issue as well. So all of those fall under the banner of freedom, whether we're talking about the economy, education, public safety or election integrity. But the No. 1 issue is protecting Pennsylvanians' freedoms.

Anne Danahy 
Bill McSwain, thank you so much for talking with us.

Bill McSwain 
Terrific. Thanks for having me.

Anne Danahy
If you’re just joining us, this is Take Note on WPSU. I’m Anne Danahy, and we’re talking with candidates running in the Republican primary for Pennsylvania Governor. We just spoke with McSwain, and next, we’ll hear from Melissa Hart.

Anne Danahy 
Melissa Hart, thank you for talking with us.

Melissa Hart 
It's nice to be with you today.

Anne Danahy 
You served in the state Senate and U.S. House, and you now work as an attorney. You're also one of nine candidates in this race, you all agree on some of the issues. So what sets you apart from the other candidates?

Melissa Hart 
Yeah, I think it's important actually that voters pay attention to our skills and abilities. Aside from the fact that, you know, we may agree on an issue or two, or 10. It's less relevant than who we are as people, what we've been able to accomplish. If we've been elected, if we understand government, if we understand the private sector. I am the only person in this race who actually has served a significant amount of time in state. Ten years I was a state senator, I chaired the state Senate Finance Committee, then I was six years in the federal government. I'm the only one of us actually who has the balance of both state and federal service. But the reason I'm actually in this race is because the last 15 years where I've been working in the private sector as an attorney at a small firm, working with small business people, and I'm also on the board of directors, which is a very active board of a lender that only lends to small business people. So I have been pretty much pushed into this race by the concerns of those Pennsylvanians who've been trying to build our economy and finding that they hit a brick wall often when dealing with the state.

Anne Danahy 
Can you be specific? What are you hearing from them? What types of issues would you like to address

Melissa Hart 
Yeah, they're across the board. But to begin with, though, it is the incredible and growing bureaucracy and the very uncooperative, I would say uncooperative state agencies. I think this governor really and COVID together have put us in a position where our state agencies are more interested in being the people who give directives, but not the people who assist Pennsylvanians in compliance, for example, with regulations, or with getting licensed. I talked to a woman the other day, whose daughter is a nurse practitioner, and she can't get her license to practice. She's been waiting for months and months. And as you know, our healthcare system needs her and has needed her. But the state is not cooperative and making sure that we have the people we need ready to go even though she's qualified. So that example is No. 1. I want to work with these agencies to make sure that they're customer service-oriented. But also the issues I've faced regarding energy. The development of energy in Pennsylvania has stalled in under this administration. And we need to free up both the families who own the properties, the companies who want to help them produce. And also we need to make the connections with the market. So the pipelines that are being stalled again, by this administration. We need to make sure that we make the connections and also make the connections to the ports, so that the liquification, for example of our natural gas can be done. And then that can be marketed. It's good for all of Pennsylvania. It's not just, you know, the people who are in the energy industry, because then we have cheaper energy. And that helps all the smaller towns that used to be dependent on manufacturing. As we work to onshore manufacturing in America, Pennsylvania can be a focus for that. And obviously one of the best places because of our energy costs.

Anne Danahy 
And on the question of energy development and production in Pennsylvania, how would you balance that energy production with environmental concerns?

Melissa Hart 
Oh, the environmental concerns are actually both codified and regulatorily out there for everyone already and have been for at least a decade. I do recall very clearly, when the fracking began and started growing across the Commonwealth, we also have traditional gas drilling, and also now wet gas. So there's some oil drilling, we have an opportunity here to really expand those industries. So those industries actually already have a very comprehensive rules and regulations which they are dealing with, and they do comply with for the most part across the state.

Anne Danahy 
And related to that, of course, is concerns not just about the immediate impact on the environment, but long term climate change, and whether more needs to be done to address that. What's your perspective on that?

Melissa Hart 
Yeah, well, we have a wonderful opportunity here because the gas especially is a very clean burning fuel. And we have an opportunity to continue the trajectory we've been on for decades, with having fewer and fewer problems with our air, for example, as a result of energy production. So I think it's important for us to move forward now.

Anne Danahy 
You've called for education reform, including school choice for families. How would that work? And would it include using tax dollars to support private schools?

Melissa Hart 
Yeah, there's no tax dollars going directly to private schools, because our Constitution doesn't allow for religious schools. But we do allow grants back to parents and that's what would happen here in Pennsylvania, if we did pass a school choice bill. When I was a state senator, I sponsored school choice. We were unable to get it passed at the time. I also worked with an organization out of Washington called the Center for Education Reform, which is based really out there to give parents the control over the children's education. So I'm supportive of a number of different things because every child is different. So every child learns differently. And so each parent should have the opportunity to put their child in the type of education that works best where that child is most likely to succeed, because that's what they want for their future. So I support homeschooling, I support school choice, which would allow a parent to choose a different school district, it also would provide a parent the opportunity to choose a private school, whether religious or not, and that will be up to them. They will get a rebate of some of their taxes so that that would help them defray the cost of education. But I also do support charters, which are public schools. And many of the newest and best charters in the Commonwealth are the ones that are focusing on science and technology. We've had unfortunately, a dearth of graduates who are encouraged in the sciences and encouraged in mathematics. And so what happens in our economy is we're short the people we need for those technical careers. It's important for us to focus on that. We can also, in fact improve our vo-techs, which is a part of our high school system, but they haven't been keeping up with the needs of the market. So we need to work with industry to make sure that those vo-techs are teaching the kids the things they know. So they can walk out of high school into a good paying job.

Anne Danahy
Melissa Hart, we have just a few seconds left, what would you say your top priority would be if you were elected?

Melissa Hart 
I think the state needs to be focused on customer service instead of the state expecting us to serve the agencies, which I find appalling. So that's one thing that certainly has to be turned on its head. But the other is that parents need to be able to choose their schools. We need to get the state out of the business of teaching crazy ideologies and back to common sense. Look, parents raise their children, and they teach them the values that their family holds. The school should focus on academic subjects, and not be involved whatsoever in what a lot of people are calling indoctrination. And in a lot of cases, it looks like that's what it is. We need to focus on teaching kids the truth, not some academic's view of something. So the other issue for me is making sure that voter integrity is addressed.

We had a wholesale change of our voting system, which was inappropriate and uncalled for, with Act 77. I would repeal that. I would work with the legislature to repeal that. Go back to the system that we had before. Because there was really no cause for the change. People had access to the vote, there was no major voter fraud or anything that we were informed about before. So let's go back to that prior system so that our counties can actually process the ballots in the way they're funded to do this, this crush of mail in ballots that don't allow us to know who even won a race is just unreasonable and ridiculous. And now we've seen that it's against the Pennsylvania constitution. So let's go back to the basics, go back to: you must order an absentee ballot and you must be a valid applicant like the state Commonwealth Court ruled. And then we also, in my opinion, must add one thing to the system. And that is a requirement for picture ID and government voter ID for each voter so that each of us know that when we vote our votes not going to be canceled out by someone who's not a valid voter.

Anne Danahy 
Melissa Hart, thank you for talking with us.

Melissa Hart 
Well, it's good to be with you today. I appreciate the opportunity.

Anne Danahy
If you’re just joining us, this is Take Note on WPSU. I’m Anne Danahy, and we’re talking with candidates running in the Republican primary for Pennsylvania Governor. We just spoke with Melissa Hart, and next, we’ll hear from Joe Gale

Anne Danahy 
Joe Gale, thank you for talking with us.

Joe Gale 
I'm very grateful for this opportunity. Thanks for having me.

Anne Danahy 
You're a Montgomery County commissioner, and you're one of nine candidates in this race. And you all agree on some of the issues. What do you think sets you apart from the other candidates?

Joe Gale 
The difference between me and my opponents is I've never been controlled or influenced by the Republican Party establishment. In my capacity as Montgomery County commissioner, where I'm currently serving my second term, I've never had the support of my own party. And that's what makes me a unique candidate. I've never kissed the rings and played "Mother May I." I bucked the system and had a big upset in my campaign for Montgomery County commissioner, which is the third most populated county in the state. It's larger than five states in population. And I was reelected by a larger margin in 2019. And I take that same concept now in my statewide campaign for governor. And what that gives me the ability to do is to hold my own side accountable, the Republican state legislature, the Republican majority in the state Senate, in the State House, to hold them accountable and actually advance a common sense conservative agenda that Pennsylvania is in desperate need of.

Anne Danahy 
You have been very critical of members of your own party as you yourself note, other Republicans. But if you're going to be effective as governor, you have to be able to bring people together. It's more than pointing out what you see as the wrongdoings of others in the political realm. Do you see yourself as someone who can do that? Who can bring people together even if you don't agree with them on everything?

Joe Gale 
Well take a look at history. The last Republican governor we had was Tom Corbett, who also had a Republican majority in the state Senate and in the state House. And the legacy of the entire corporate administration was giving Pennsylvania the highest gas tax in the whole entire country. Act 89 is infamously known as the Corbett gas tax. And that was their major accomplishment. I think it was a disaster. And it's the single reason why Corbett was unable to get reelected in 2014. And what gave us Tom Wolfe as governor. So Corbett took the strategy of, I'm going to go along to get along, I'm not going to ruffle feathers. I'm gonna give pork barrel spending projects to the state reps and state senators looking for something in their district just to get them in line to support specific legislation. And that got us nowhere. So my philosophy is, we simply need Republicans to do what they're supposed to do. And far too often, we have Republicans that lack a backbone, and particularly here in Pennsylvania, and what I will do is hold my own party accountable. There's various issues such as school choice, I'm a big supporter of school choice. I know going into that scenario, Democrats will not support me, I already know that. But Republicans should support school choice. And when there's weak Republicans that drag their feet and resist school choice, because they're endorsed and funded by the PSEA, the teachers union, and they cater to that union. It's for political expedience, instead of doing what's best for the children and the quality of their education. I'm going to call them out by name, and also support primary challengers against them. And I believe that's the best way to get results — to hold Republicans accountable to supporting the conservative agenda that Pennsylvania needs.

Anne Danahy 
So you mentioned school choice. What would be your priority if you're elected?

Joe Gale 
Well, No. 1 is election reform. As I travel the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it's very clear that citizens across the state have lost faith in the integrity of our election. And that's because of Act 77, which is the unconstitutional mail-in voting law that gave Pennsylvania 50 days of no excuse mail-in voting. That's the longest vote by mail period of time in the entire nation. And this disastrous mail voting law was not only passed unconstitutionally, it was passed unanimously by every single Republican state senator, two of which are running for governor. One is the president of the state Senate, Jake Corman and the other is a state senator from Franklin County named Doug Mastriano. And it's my belief that any candidate, anyone that voted for that disastrous law should be disqualified from holding any office, let alone being promoted to a higher office. And I believe Act 77 is the most scandalous piece of legislation to ever come out of Harrisburg. It's worse than the midnight pay raise in 2005, when our elected officials raised their salary in the middle of the night. The fact that this was done pre-pandemic — it had nothing to do with the Coronavirus — unconstitutionally, and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court had a ruling in February declaring that — is really unacceptable. And it absolutely destroyed the integrity of our elections.

Anne Danahy 
Well, there's been no…

Joe Gale 
As the next governor, I would repeal Act 77 and then also push forward election reform where we need to restore traditional absentee ballots that required a valid excuse. A shorter window of time. None of this 50 days of mail-in voting. And also we need voter ID.

Anne Danahy 
There's been no evidence of any widespread voter fraud. And what would you say to the voters, and I'm thinking in particular of older voters who during the pandemic were able to vote easily by mail or by dropping their ballots off —

Joe Gale 
How can you, how can you claim there's been no evidence of voter fraud —

Anne Danahy 
widespread voter fraud …

Joe Gale 
We've had four elections — excuse me — four elections in Pennsylvania, the primary and general of 2020, and the primary and general of 2021, conducted under unconstitutional voting guidelines that the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has declared. That is a, that is fraud itself.

Anne Danahy 
That's subject to appeal.

Joe Gale 
The fact that we're conducting elections under unconstitutional laws is not right.

Joe Gale 
What would you say to a voter who supports voting by mail and says, Look they can do in other states? Why don't you change it so that we can have it?

Joe Gale
We've always had that through absentee ballots and the Pennsylvania constitution clearly lays out Article 7 Section 14, that an absentee ballot requires a valid excuse. So I believe in one election day, where you exercise your civic duty to vote in person on election day, and if you're unable to do so, because of a a health matter or a an employment matter where you have to be out of town, you have the option to vote by an absentee ballot that requires a valid excuse.

Anne Danahy 
You were censured by the commissioners you serve with in 2020, for calling Black Lives Matter a hate group. Do you see yourself as divisive? Or do you see yourself as someone you can work with people you might not agree with?

Joe Gale 
I see someone that is able to get results because I have the ability to hold my own side accountable.

Anne Danahy 
Do you think you can work across the aisle?

Joe Gale 
If they're willing to work with me — absolutely. But if they're too worried about catering to campaign donors, or special interest groups, labor trade unions, teacher unions, public sector unions, lobbyists, instead of doing what's right for the families and taxpayers of Pennsylvania, then I'm going to call these type of individuals out by name and support primary challengers against them. And I don't care if they're of either party affiliation.

Anne Danahy 
We have a few seconds left. Is there anything else you'd like to say to voters?

Joe Gale 
I would just tell the voters that in 2022, there's an opportunity to change course. I know there's many Pennsylvanians that are frustrated with draconian lockdowns and shutdowns and mandates, and we have an opportunity to advance a common sense conservative agenda. But I need to be the Republican nominee for governor to actually win the general election and 2022. I have the geographic advantage of being a two term Montgomery County Commissioner in a highly populated area, which happens to be the same home county as the Democrat nominee, Josh Shapiro. And that gives me an advantage because of the personal relationships and name recognition that I developed in his home turf, to have a successful general election. And I encourage Republican primary voters across Pennsylvania to vote Joe Gale for governor on May 17. So I can be the nominee that will deliver results and also win the general election in November.

Anne Danahy 
Joe Gale, thank you for talking with us.

Joe Gale 
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

Anne Danahy
We’ve been talking with Republican candidates seeking their party’s nomination to be Governor in Pennsylvania’s May 17th primary. The Democratic primary is not competitive. WPSU invited all of the Republican candidates for interviews. One of those candidates, Senator Jake Corman, announced Thursday that he’s dropping out of the race. To listen to this and other episodes of Take Note, go to wpsu.org/TakeNote. I’m Anne Danahy. WPSU.

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