With the special election for the 153rd Legislative District only a few weeks away, the Hollywood Civic Association held a debate between Republican Nick Mattiacci and Democrat Madeleine Dean on Thursday night at the Ukrainian Education and Culture Center on Cedar Road.
Mattiacci and Dean are vying to fill the vacancy left by former State Rep. Josh Shapiro, who was elected as a Montgomery County Commissioner last November.
Dean is an assistant professor at La Salle University, where she teaches English. She also holds a law degree from Widener University, and she currently serves as an Abington Township Commissioner for the residents of ward seven.
Mattiacci also holds a law degree from Widener, and has served as an associate general counsel with the Philadelphia Parking Authority. He also holds a master's degree in trial advocacy from Temple University's Beasley School of Law.
Both candidates share a campaign focus on the economy, education and the elderly, but Dean said she also wants to focus on the environment and ethics. On the other side, Mattiacci said he wants to put an end to partisan politics, and said that the district needs a moderate voice.
"I think that Republicans waste too much time trying to legislate with their brains, and I think Democrats waste too much time trying to legislate with their heart," Mattiacci said.
The evening began on a somewhat-controversial note, as Dean used a portion of her introductory period to publicly confront Mattiacci about a recent phone poll of several hundred residents. Dean claimed that the survey contained inaccurate information, and unfairly attacked her family.
In response, Mattiacci stated that he wasn't aware of the poll, and that he never authorized such a poll. He added that he thought it was disingenuous for Dean to bring up the matter during the debate.
Following the introductory portion of the evening, the two candidates answered a series of four questions, which were developed by the Executive Board of the Hollywood Civic Association.
Question one: What would you propose as a state legislator to protect neighborhoods from commercialization, such as billboards?
Mattiacci said that he viewed commercialization as a local issue, stating that while certain townships may allow billboards as a source of revenue, others may be opposed. As a result, he said that he would vote for an increase in a municipality's legislative power.
Dean cited Abington Township's current ordinance, which prohibits off-site billboards, as an example of how she would like to deal with the issue. She acknowledged that the ordinance has come under scrutiny, but said that she believes it will stand, as the state constitution guarantees that communities may preserve their aesthetics.
Question two: What is your opinion of the new Pennsylvania Voter ID Law?
Dean stated that she viewed the recent Voter ID legislation as "a solution without a problem," and she pointed out that it will cost the state between $5 million and $11 million to implement.
"I think it's a disaster," Dean said. "I think it's a mistake. I think it's an attempt to regulate that which does not need regulation. I think it's an attempt to disenfranchise certain groups."
Mattiacci stated that he was in favor of the legislation, saying that it's important to ensure the authenticity of the voting process. He also cited studies conducted by the University of Delaware and the University of Nebraska that concluded that similar legislation in other states did not disenfranchise voters.
Dean said that her research shows that only ten cases of voter fraud have occurred in Pennsylvania over the last ten years, and that such a small number shouldn't potentially inhibit the rights of others to vote.
Mattiacci replied stating that ten instances is ten too many, and the number doesn't include the instances where voter fraud wasn't caught.
Question three: Can you discuss your opinion on fracking, revenue, and local jurisdiction on fracking?
Mattiacci began by saying that he believes Harrisburg has it wrong, and fracking needs to be taxed. He added that he would like to see a school tax freeze for senior citizens, and that the creation of a fracking tax would help accomplish that goal.
Dean stated that the current "impact fee" of 2.4 percent is inadequate, adding that states with similar resources — such as Texas and Alaska — had far higher tax rates. She added that environmental protection must also be considered.
Question four: What is your position on the current levels of funding for public education in Pennsylvania?
Dean said "education is the key to this country's future," and she took exception to Governor Corbett passing state budgets which cut $800 million from education last year and a proposed $300 million in education cuts this year.
"I think it says something about our government when you take a look at how we spend our money," Dean said. "If we keep taking from education, that tells you about the priorities of our government."
Mattiacci began by saying that while he disagrees with the budget cuts, education accounting for one-third of the state's budget makes it a target for such cuts. He said that $9 billion of Pennsylvania's $27 billion budget goes to education, without including what is contributed through school taxes collected at the local level.
"I think we need to move away from the mindset that more money will equal a better education," Mattiacci said, adding that tough decisions will need to be made in the near future.