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Down to the Wire – Final Gubernatorial Debate Held in Pittsburgh

The third and final gubernatorial debate between Governor Tom Corbett and Democratic candidate Tom Wolf took place in Pittsburgh this week, with each fighting to differentiate himself and clarify his positions. Corbett and Wolf continued to clash on education funding as well as voter ID laws, marijuana, size of the legislature, taxation, and the death penalty.

Neither candidate directly addressed a question about tackling methane emissions from the natural gas industry during the debate, largely reverting to their usual rhetoric on the subject. Wolf reiterated his call for a 5 percent extraction tax on natural gas, which he said is projected to bring in as much as a billion dollars in revenue. Some of that money, he said, “should go to the Department of Environmental Protection to make sure that we have the right regulations, to make sure that we have the right number of people who will oversee the regulation of this industry so that we do have a clean environment.”

In a questionnaire ahead of last May’s primary, Wolf said that Pennsylvania must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and vowed to “work with the private sector to promote the development of new technology that quickly and effectively detects fugitive methane emissions.”

Gov. Corbett defended Pennsylvania’s environmental laws and enforcement efforts, though he did not specifically address the issue of methane emissions. “The men and women who work at DEP have been out there on a regular basis, conducting the inspections, following up on those inspections. When necessary, we’ve been imposing the fines that are necessary to get compliance with those. There are always next steps in that, and I’ll finish up when we get back to it.”

On other subjects, the candidates agreed the state should enact legislation to bring gender pay equality to the workplace, and that the state should move away from the election of appellate judges – and that was where the Kumbaya time ended.

Corbett continued to beat on Wolf for his refusal to fully unveil his taxation plan; while Wolf continued to argue Corbett had failed to adequately fund schools.

Wolf also took this opportunity to take a few jabs at Corbett for breaking his no-tax pledge (Act 13 and transportation fund plan gas tax) and said that a failure to set appropriate management standards played a role in the recent pornographic email scandal rocking several in Corbett’s senior leadership team. Corbett took offense to the suggestion.

The debate explored new area of disagreement, including marijuana regulations and reducing the size of the legislature.

An array of pro-marijuana advocates, ranging from medical use, to tax-and-use recreation, to penalty reformers have stormed the Capitol for months, prompting the state Senate to consider the issue. Corbett said he favors only limited study of the drug for medical purposes, calling it a “gateway drug,” while Wolf called for the immediate legalization of medical marijuana and decriminalization of possession of small amounts of the drug. Wolf said he would hold off on entertaining the idea of full decriminalization.

When it came to the merits of governing body size, Corbett supports a smaller legislature, while Wolf disagreed, saying that the larger body serves democracy best. Corbett has had an extremely difficult time pushing his agendas through the GOP controlled House and Senate, but the size and fulltime status of the legislature does make it an extremely costly entity that similarly sized states do not have.

Corbett said he would continue to sign appropriate death warrants; Wolf wants a moratorium on the death penalty. Corbett said he would sign another voter ID bill, defending the concept of guarding against voter fraud; Wolf said such attempts would disenfranchise voters and likely be tossed out in court.

Overall, both candidates seemed confident and comfortable during the debate. Despite polls that consistently have Wolf in the lead, neither candidate is acting like the race is over or that their candidacy is a sure bet.

Ultimately, it will come down to the voters’ points of view as they head to the polls on Nov. 4.

Voter turnout is historically low on non-Presidential election cycles; however, a trip to the polls this fall will also determine dozens of House, Senate, and Congressional races that could easily shift the scales of partisan power in Pennsylvania and DC.