Hutchinson, Stromyer Go Toe-to-Toe in State Senate Debate
CLARION CO., Pa. (EYT) – Incumbent State Senator Scott Hutchinson (R-21) went toe-to-toe with challenger Shelbie Stromyer on Thursday night to debate issues believed to be most important in this year’s election.
(Photos by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)
21st Senate District incumbent Scott Hutchinson (R) and challenger Shelbie Stromyer (D) participated in a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Clarion County.
The event, which was live-streamed on exploreClarion.com, touched on a range of topics from increasing access to broadband internet to bringing an end to partisanship.
Local attorney and League member, Cassandra Neely, Esq., moderated the debate, which opened with each of the candidates providing an opening statement.
“I believe I offer to the voters a clear choice: someone who is grounded in the values of rural northwestern Pennsylvania and my record as senator confirms that I work hard each and every day to strongly and consistently represent those priorities,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson chose to focus much of his opening statement on the local and state economy, stating it is “critical” for Pennsylvania to reopen as quickly and safely as possible.
“I will continue to do those things that make state government allow job creators to flourish. That means a competitive job climate, availability of education and workforce development, reducing bureaucratic burdens for those who want to build their businesses, expanding access to rural broadband across the state, and promoting Pennsylvania’s competitive advantages like our energy economy.”
He noted that he is also highly committed to fiscal responsibility in state government.
Stromyer introduced herself as a registered nurse who has been working in the local community for over 30 years and decided to run for office after becoming concerned about the future of our region.
“These young families have a legitimate reason to be complaining,” Stroymer stated. “30 percent of our families are living below the poverty level at this point.”
She went on to state she has signed the “Rural Bill of Rights,” which seeks support for education, clean water, clean air, transportation, access to healthcare, and jobs that offer a livable wage, specifically noting the 21st District has an average 10 percent unemployment rate.
“We’ve become adjusted to living without, and we deserve better,” she stated.
First, Hutchinson and Stromyer responded to questions from the League, which they had in advance. Then, they answered previously submitted voter questions, which were reviewed by a committee consisting of a representative from the LWV of Clarion County and representatives of the three political student associations at Clarion University, College Democrats, College Republicans, and College Democratic Socialists.
The questions ranged from issues marijuana legalization, recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, the expansion of broadband internet access, abortion, and more.
The issue of how to bring an end to partisanship and polarization in Harrisburg brought vastly different answers from both individuals, with Hutchinson focusing on the judicial branch and Stromyer honing in on the legislative branch.
“I think it’s important that we take partisanship out of our state Supreme Court, our state commonwealth court and other state appeals courts,” Hutchinson stated, going on to say he supports creating judicial districts in Pennsylvania, with each district holding one seat on the state Supreme Court.
According to Hutchinson, this would prevent the ongoing issue of commonly having mostly judges from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in the highest seats without representation for the rural areas of the state.
Stromyer focused on partisanship in the house and senate.
“I want reforms. We need term limits for politicians, and we need equal amounts of democrats and republicans in the committees so agendas can go to the Senate for discussion.”
The two also differed greatly in their assessment of how the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled, with Hutchinson denouncing the initial “one size fits all” approach to mitigating the virus in Pennsylvania, while Stromyer focused on the need to make sure hospitals and healthcare facilities have adequate staffing to handle the situation.
A question regarding House Bill 1945, known as the “gift ban” bill, which would make it illegal for public employees and officials to accept gifts, also brought varied answers.
Stromyer stated she would definitely support the bill.
“Too many legislators have a lot of money and little transparency. Where are they getting their money?” she asked.
“We cannot go on like this. The public doesn’t trust our government anymore. We have to bring some trust back into the government.”
Hutchinson stated that while he does support “a limit,” he feels the bill needs to have “wiggle room,” so legislators aren’t being forced to refuse small things, like being offered a bottle of water or a cup of coffee during a meeting.
He noted that financial interest statements are available to allow voters to know what gifts legislators do receive, calling it “an important part of transparency,” but also said those gifts sometimes “can’t be explained very well.”
The issue of recreational marijuana was another sticking point, with Stromyer throwing her support behind it, and Hutchinson calling it “another dangerous substance,” saying legalization would send “the wrong message to young people.”
The common hot-button issue of abortion also came up during the debate, with a question asking “With a new justice in the Supreme Court, there has been much discussion as to whether there may one day be a ruling against Roe v. Wade. If such a ruling were to happen, what measures would you support on a state level with respect to abortion access and reproductive rights?”
Hutchinson answered stating he would “never apologize” for his pro-life stance.
“My record stands for itself. If there are ways for the state of Pennsylvania to reduce the number of abortions, I vote for it every single time.”
He went on to state that medical conditions such as Down syndrome should not be used as “an excuse.”
“If a baby is viable outside of the mother’s womb, it should not be aborted.”
He also noted he has endorsements from pro-life groups.
“It is something that I think says a lot about our society, how we take care of the unborn, unable to talk for themselves, and I will continue to model my votes and my priorities on those lines.”
Stromyer kicked off her response by noting she falls on the pro-choice side of the spectrum.
“I am a first-trimester abortion proponent just because I’ve seen 12-year-old pregnant girls. What do you do? I’ve seen rape victims. What do you do? It’s not a one or all.”
She went on to note the need for legislation recognizing cases such as those in which a pregnant woman is diagnosed with cancer and delaying chemotherapy to carry the pregnancy to term may lead to a terminal diagnosis.
“You have to look at the whole picture. You have to take a look at what’s going on. The majority of abortions are done in the first trimester. I’m definitely against end trimester abortion unless that child has died because you can carry a child until you go into labor and it can be dead. We have to take a look at this and see where we fit into all this picture.”
“Right now, with the COVID and stuff, people are starving, so here’s another mouth that has to be fed, but if they decide in the first trimester that this is not the right time, that’s a blood clot, not a baby.”
She also cited concerns about abortion legislation being used to control women’s bodies, as well as the possible consequences of legislation limiting or banning abortions.
“The rich are still going to get their abortions. The politicians’ girlfriends are still going to get their abortions. What’s going to happen is the ones living in poverty, they’re going to go to the back alleys and they’re going to die.”
One issue Hutchinson and Stromyer seemed to agree upon is the need for increased access to high-speed broadband internet throughout rural Pennsylvania, both noting its importance in education and business.
Following the question segment of the debate, both candidates also offered closing statements.
Hutchinson appealed to voters based on his experience and record as a legislator in the region.
“I stand on my record. I stand on representing the values of the people of the 21st Senatorial District.”
Stromyer closed with a statement on the need for change in the region.
“If we don’t take a look at our kids and our grandchildren, and if we don’t invest in them by investing in our district, we’re in trouble.”
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