HARRISBURG, Pa. (WTAJ) — Democratic Party candidates for Pennsylvania’s United States Senate seat shared the debate stage for an hour Thursday night that focused on several pressing topics.
The debate was held at the abc27 studio in Harrisburg. abc27 News anchor and Capitol Bureau Reporter Dennis Owens and WPXI Anchor Lisa Sylvester were co-moderators.
Pennsylvania Lt. Governor John Fetterman, PA 17 US House Representative Conor Lamb and State Representative for the 181st District, Malcolm Kenyatta answered questions and addressed issues ranging from the federal gas tax to the legalization of marijuana.
Here are some key takeaways from the debate:
The 2013 Braddock Incident
The most contentious moment of the debate occurred after Fetterman was questioned about a 2013 incident in Braddock where he detained an unarmed black man he believed was involved in a shooting. Owens asked Fetterman if he would have done anything differently.
Fetterman began his response by saying that he succeeded in helping address a gun violence problem in Braddock when he became mayor. He then went on to describe the incident.
“I heard a burst of gunfire. With my young son, I made a split-second decision to call 911, get my son to safety and intercept an individual, the only individual out running from where the gunfire came. I intercepted him until our first responders arrived as Braddock’s chief law enforcement officer and as the mayor,” Fetterman said. “It’s certainly not a situation that anyone would want to be involved in with gun violence.”
Fetterman continued by saying he is the only candidate who has successfully confronted crime and gun violence. Kenyatta then turned to Fetterman and asked him a question out of turn.
“Did you do it while chasing other people with a shotgun?” Kenyatta said.
Lamb also addressed the incident saying that Fetterman was dishonest about pointing a shotgun at the man to detain him and referred to statements Fetterman and the man gave to police.
When asked about his option on the incident, Kenyatta once again turned to Fetterman and asked him why he has not apologized nine years later.
“For somebody who has cut an image as an incredibly tough guy, you’re so afraid of two little words. I’m Sorry,” Kenyatta said. “You did take a 20 gauge shotgun, get in your pickup truck, traveled to another town and brandished that weapon at the chest of an unarmed black jogger. You did that.”
Fetterman responded by saying the incident had nothing to do with racial profiling and said he never pointed the weapon at the man.
Legalizing Recreational Marijuana
The candidates were asked about their stances on the legalization of recreational marijuana at the federal level. Owens noted that there is growing support among voters on both political parties for legalizing and said that neighboring states like New York and New Jersey have already implemented it.
Fetterman said he is in support of recreational marijuana and added it would bring billions in revenue to the state and bring hundreds of thousands of jobs. He also claimed legalization would help eliminate a disproportional impact on racial communities and give veterans a tool to help with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“There’s really no reason to oppose the legalization of marijuana and the only one reason to do that is reefer madness. We need to move past that as a country,” Fetterman said.
Lamb, who was highlighted as being a former prosecutor, said that marijuana is not a serious criminal threat when compared to heroin and fentanyl. However, he said legalization should be implemented slowly and carefully so important questions can be addressed.
“What does the head of a construction crew do the day after it becomes legal and his heavy equipment operators could potentially be testing positive for cannabis? What do you do if your child’s school bus driver tests positive for cannabis or has it in their system?” Lamb said.
Kenyatta opposed Lamb’s position and said legalization should not be done slowly and that it should have been done a long time ago. He also brought forth a statistic saying black and brown Pennsylvanians are 285 percent more likely to be detained and arrested for having a bag of marijuana in their pocket.
“This is a civil rights issue, this is an issue for the future of our economy and frankly this is an issue for our farmers who would be happy to begin to grow this product,” Kenyatta said.
To Extend or not Extend Title 42
Title 42 allows the federal government to prevent migrants along the southern border from entering the country during health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. This is set to expire on May 23.
When asked to raise their hand if they are in favor of extending Title 42, Lamb and Fetterman raised their hands but Kenyatta did not.
Lamb responded first by saying he thought it was logical for Title 42 to stay in place for as long as the pandemic lasts.
“What I would support would be a bill that says title 42 stays in place until at least 60 days after the CDC says that the pandemic is over,” Lamb said.
Kenyatta noted that it is more complex than just raising a hand. He claimed that the federal government needs to have better practices at the border saying comprehensive immigration reform is needed. He also said resources should be rushed to the border to process asylum claims, humanely and safely.
Fetterman who raised his hand to extend Title 42 started by saying it would require a level of planning and understanding of where the pandemic is going to continue. He added it would be a rash judgment to revoke it too soon.
He also noted the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
Grading President Joe Biden
Towards the end of the debate, candidates were asked to grade President Joe Biden’s first year in office. Here’s what they each had to say.
Malcolm Kenyatta: A-
In his response, Kenyatta mentioned other individuals that should hold the blame for these current issues like gas prices and inflation. When it came to the hike at gas pumps, Kenyatta remarked the blame is not on the president but on Vladimir Putin. Kenyatta’s statements moved past gas prices into issues within the senate.
“The President has helped spearhead transformational legislation, but the problem is he has not had a senate that has been there to help him finish the job,” Kenyatta said.
Kenyatta continued by pointing out that Joe Manchin was responsible for holding up an entire plethora of bills, including Build Back Better.
Kenyatta finished by saying he believes the president has a record he can campaign on based on his leadership around Ukraine, passing the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan Infrastructure Plan, along with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson becoming the first African American woman on the Supreme Court ever.
John Fetterman: B+
The question then moved to Fetterman who was asked what it would take for the President to have gotten an A in his first year. Joe Manchin was brought up again as Fetterman noted he believed things would be better if Manchin would get on board to deliver the votes they needed to pass a lot of the important legislation.
“The bottom line is Joe Biden deserves an A if we could have democrats voting together like democrats and lean in and deliver transformative legislation,” stated Fetterman.
Conor Lamb: B+
In why Lamb did not give an A, he said what could have been done better by not only the president but everyone.
“What the president could have done better and can do better and we all can do better is address the real physical, emotional stress and pain that most of our constitutes are living through every day,” Lamb said
He attributed some issues that come from rising prices, fatigue with the pandemic, and the real fears about Ukraine. Lamb ended by stating it doesn’t matter how great intentions are but leaders have to do more and speak to the situations that people are in.
On Monday, April 25, the Pennsylvania Republican Primary Senate Debate will air at 8 p.m.