Shippensburg University’s Orndorff Theatre buzzed with conversation as community members, students and educators gathered to meet and listen to local political candidates in the days leading up to Tuesday’s midterm election.
History professor and Ship Votes adviser Catherine Clay introduced two members of the organization, which began as a way to engage student in the political process and co-sponsored the event.
History department Chair Steve Burg moderated the forum and encouraged audience members to spread the word about the event via social media.
The department invited both Republican and Democratic candidates running for seats in the Pennsylvania General Assembly and U.S. Congress.
Both republican candidates State Rep. Mark Keller and John Joyce’s seats sat noticeably empty, and both declined to send a proxy in their absence.
“We get the pleasure tonight to hear Karen Anderson and Brent Ottaway’s views on the issues,” Burg said.
Each candidate was given the four questions previous to the event and given four minutes to explain their answer per question.
Democrat Karen Anderson is running to be a state representative of the 86th district. She warned of her “dangerous” rambling due to her Irish heritage and read from her own prepared notes.
“I love the United States and I want to see it reach its full potential,” Anderson said.
She was raised by her father who served 31 years in the Army in World War II, twice in Korea and in Vietnam. Her family moved to Perry County, part of the 86th district, after his retirement.
She received her bachelor’s degree in landscaping architecture from Pennsylvania State University and served two years in Ecuador with the Peace Corp. Anderson then worked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Manhattan, New York, specifically in community development work before coming home to raise her family.
Now, as an owner and manager of her own farm in Perry County and as a 5-year breast cancer survivor, Anderson has a wide range intersectional experiences that have driven her to run for office.
“Watching destructive partisan politics at the federal and state level infuriates me,” Anderson said.
She believes politicians of good-will with shared goals and a variety of ways to accomplish them can work together to serve constituents. Her slogan “People, Not Politics” echoes her philosophy.
“Term limits encourages new people to step up with new, creative ideas and energy,” Anderson said, “I hope you’ll allow me to be that change.”
Brent Ottaway is an Erie County native and a long time Republican turned Democrat running for the U.S. Congress’ 13th district.
He recalled that the first time he was involved in politics was in his sophomore year of college when Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential election.
Ottaway worked as an editor of a magazine after college, but grew tired of the managerial responsibilities and decided to pursue a master’s degree at West Virginia University, which led to his current position as a communications professor at St. Francis University.
“My late wife Ellen and I always discussed running for Congress, because when we moved here we drove on something called the Bud Shuster highway,” Ottaway said.
He explained how Republican Bud Shuster was a “permanent member of Congress” serving for over 20 years in the 13th district, who was then handed it off to his son, Bill Shuster.
“For the last 46 years we have had a Shuster representing my area of Pennsylvania, often running unopposed,” Ottaway said. “We’d all be better off if Ellen were running, but I’m not a bad second choice.”
The first question Burg asked had to do with the cost of higher education; specifically, how it is thatcollege graduates in Pennsylvania have the highest amount of debt in the country.
Anderson explained that the state system of higher education was established by lawmakers to provide students with high-quality education at the lowest possible cost.
She recalled that in 2011 her opponent voted to cut $90 million from the state system.
Anderson listed systematic solutions to ease the burden of debt by cutting the interest rates, collapsing financial plans into a single plan, privatizing student loans or creating a stabilization fund for all schools.
“There are solutions out there we just need someone bold enough to work on behalf of the people of the 86th, and I will be that person.” Anderson said.
This topic was near and dear to Ottaway, as all five of his children neglected to attend St. Francis University where they would be exempt from tuition.
“In Pennsylvania, the state is penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to higher education,” Ottaway said. “They shortchanged the state system and those costs are passed along, which begins a dangerous spiral that hurts students and colleges.”
Ottaway believes providing incentive for employers to help relieve debt is a key to affordable higher education. He said college administrations, the state government and the federal government can work together to alleviate debt for students.
“Our legislatures tend to be too short-sighted and if we take the long view we can do something about this problem,” Ottaway said.
Burg asked each candidate how he or she plans to help generate jobs and promote economic opportunity in rural areas of Pennsylvania.
“We don’t want to court large businesses to come into our area, we also want to grow business from inside the communities,” Anderson said. “No one knows our people and our needs better than we do.”
She listed her priorities, which included encouraging business growth, improving access to local employment opportunities, vocational training and improving quality on K-12 education.
“It’s time we start looking toward the future and what that could mean for our little slice of Pennsylvania,” Anderson said.
She also said the production and development of renewable resources are the next frontier of economic growth, as well as artisan talents like beer and wine production that are becoming popular vocations.
Ottaway agreed with Anderson, on many fronts and emphasized renewable energy and the current administrations denial of climate change.
“Many people don’t recognize that solar energy already provides twice as many jobs as the coal industry in the United States, and it could be far more,” Ottaway said.
Burg then brought up the issue of healthcare.
He reiterated that 400,000 Pennsylvanians have bought coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Anderson supports Medicare and the ACA at the federal level, and saw it as a great starting point, but finds the issue to be one of federal legislation.
“We should look at healthcare as a right rather than a privilege,” Anderson said. “We must keep this issue at the top of our to-do list.”
As a moderate Democrat, Ottaway believes he can talk across the aisle as he has a “knack and desire” to create a bipartisan bill that guarantees quality healthcare.
The last topic was race in Pennsylvania. Burg mentioned an article from 24/7 Wall Street that stated Pennsylvania had the sixth highest level of racial inequality in the nation.
Anderson let out a sigh before encouraging honesty of race relations in our country, listing housing, employment and health as “profound areas of racial inequality.”
She believes some solutions could be access to affordable rental housing, improving access to retirement savings and the workplace, and lastly adopting a fair-chance hiring policy.
“I do believe minimum wage should be increased to $15 an hour by 2024,” Anderson said. “We need to increase this in order to compete and put people on a footing to make a living wage.”
Ottaway believes this topic should be dealt with at both the micro and macro levels.
“We have to look at things like disenfranchising minorities in voting districts,” Ottaway said.
He then talked about gerrymandering in the state and how the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had to intervene, and also listed other voter suppression tactics used by politicians.
“That’s something that works against women and minorities disproportionately, and that’s not by accident,” Ottaway said.
He then emphasized education and the improvement of schools as well as changing the national dialogue.
“The electoral college has chosen a president who could be more vocal about the need for racial harmony,” Ottaway said. “At the federal level, we need to stop the dog whistling, the discriminatory acts, behavior and speaking and have a Congress that serves as a check and a balance of the executive branch.”
In closing Burg asked both candidates thoughts on the importance of college students being engaged in the political process.
Anderson called students “the defenders of equality, LGBTQ rights and the next wave of the civil rights movement.”