Candidates for the newly formed 22nd District meet for debate
ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Candidates for the new 22nd District state House seat met in a debate Monday night in which they were asked to explain their positions on topics such as abortion, gun control and marijuana legalization.
More often than not, they agreed.
Democrat Josh Siegel and Republican Robert Smith, running for the seat which covers Salisbury Township and east Allentown, were put through the paces by moderator Barbara Williams of the League of Women Voters of Lehigh County.
- Democrat Josh Siegel and Republican Robert Smith met for a debate
- They are running to represent the newly created 22nd District in the state House of Representatives
- Both men agreed on a number of issues - including supporting a woman's right to choose
For example, on abortion — an especially hot topic as states across the country have upended how they handle the issue after the Supreme Court overturned Roe Vs. Wade -- both candidates said they support a woman’s right to choose.
Smith, a former school board member, said he’s personally opposed to abortion. But he told the well-attended event, held at Allentown’s Lehigh County Conference of Churches, that he believes in the current practice that allows abortions until the 24th week of pregnancy.
“I would never legislate my beliefs on another person,” said Smith, who is Catholic.
Acknowledging that Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano has made statements that he would end the practice if elected, Smith said he would not support ending abortion in this state.
“That is a scout’s honor promise,” Smith said.
“I’m the candidate you can trust to make sure that abortion rights will not be under siege. And that I will fight back, tooth and nail against any effort to overturn them."Democrat candidate Josh Siegel
Siegel, who is a member of Allentown City Council and an assistant operations manager for the Lehigh County Controller’s Office, told the audience he supports abortion rights and has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood and Vote Pro-Choice.
“I’m the candidate you can trust to make sure that abortion rights will not be under siege," Siegel told the crowd. "And that I will fight back, tooth and nail, against any effort to overturn them.”
On many issues, Smith seemed ready to take a slow and steady approach.
He said he would support legalization of marijuana, if it’s done slowly, as he wouldn’t want to see people high in public or have to explain the smell to his grandchildren.
“We have to have a task force to attack the gang issues at Allen [High School] and all over the state. The district attorney has to get involved and the police chief and the mayor. And, they have to take this for serious. We have to attack crime. It’s not always the guns."Republican candidate Robert Smith
Siegel supports legalization of marijuana and cited a study that found the state could possibly generate $1 billion in new revenue that could be used to support the public school system if recreational use is legalized here.
Smith said he would support raising the minimum wage, if it’s done slowly and gradually. He argued that small businesses -- he pointed to Allentown Farmers Market specifically -- could be hurt by having to pay employees more. Instead, he suggested tying the minimum wage to legislators' salary increases, so it would raise if they got raises.
But Siegel said he wouldn’t tie a minimum wage increase to anything. He said there is no need to wait to raise the minimum wage — especially as the state hasn’t addressed the $7.25 minimum wage since 2009.
Instead of hurting small businesses, he said, raising the minimum wage would have the opposite effect.
“If we were to raise the minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour in Pennsylvania, there would be $5.3 billion a year back into the Pennsylvania economy," he said. "Every year! That’s money for small businesses. That’s job creation for small businesses.”
And, asked about how to address gun violence, Smith discussed a slow and measured approach, as well. He said he’s not for banning guns, but teens shouldn’t have AR-15s. Instead, Smith argued that there’s a gang issue in the schools that needs to be addressed.
“We have to have a task force to attack the gang issues at Allen [High School] and all over the state," Smith said. "The district attorney has to get involved and the police chief and the mayor. And they have to take this for serious. We have to attack crime. It’s not always the guns.”
He pointed out that knives are used in violent attacks and said the speed limit near schools needs to be addressed to stop incidents such as the fatal incident at Dieruff High.
For his part, Siegel said he supports gun buybacks and banning assault weapons -- and what he called “machines of war" -- to protect the community. He said he wasn’t opposed to the ownership of shotguns and pistols.
“When we let mad men have weapons of war, innocent children are slaughtered,” Siegel said.
The two face each other on the ballot Nov. 8.