Two candidates vying for Rep. Aaron Bernstine’s seat in the state House of Representatives spoke to voters Tuesday during a voter forum about some of the most pressing issues in the 10th Legislative District.
With under a week before Election Day, the candidates — Democrat Kolbe Cole and Independent Johnathan Peffer — participated in the forum-style event inside New Castle’s city hall by each taking two minutes to answer a set of questions on various issues crafted by New Castle News staff.
Bernstine declined an invitation to attend the forum.
The 10th District serves Lawrence County communities including Ellport, Ellwood City, Enon Valley, Little Beaver Township, New Beaver, Perry Township, Plain Grove Township, New Beaver, Scott Township, Slippery Rock Township, Taylor Township, Volant, Wampum, Washington Township and Wayne Township.
With the future of the Ellwood City Hospital still uncertain, the candidates weighed-in on some of their plans to ensure their potential constituents had access to prompt and reliable emergency healthcare options.
“I think that emergency healthcare accessibly is extremely important,” Cole said. “I would most definitely look at the funding and how it’s being allocated for that and also look at transportation.”
Cole, a program coordinator at TRAILS Ministries from Beaver Falls, added she’d look at the borough’s transportation accessibility to possibly create a collaboration between the municipality and social groups, services and organizations to create opportunities without creating a deficit.
Although privately owned, Peffer — the chief executive officer of Bull’s Eye Technologies Inc. and owner-operator Doug Peffer’s Deer Processing & Smokehouse — said there must be communication “on the ground level” to create an opportunity to open the facility once again.
“(We need to find) a way to get the funding to open a hospital again to provide the healthcare that’s necessary,” Peffer said. “The emergency response time for people in the community who used that facility for their entire lives and don’t have to rely on transportation New Castle or to Beaver Valley to receive emergency healthcare.”
Peffer, a union worker, spoke of the importance of creating a pathway from education into the workforce.
“My office will continue to create job fairs and connect the workforce in my district with the different employers in the district and give them the opportunity to get the jobs that are available right now,” Peffer said. “What we need to do is find the right fit for our students in this district and provide them the resources that they need to get the jobs that best fit them.”
Peffer committed $10,000 of his salary — by way of 10 $1,000 scholarships — to anyone in the district pursing furthering their education.
Cole described a space where young people could come for resources in her office to “find their own path.” She continued she’d regularly host job and union fairs as well as promote trade schools and college recruiters.
“I think accessibility is so important,” Cole said. “Our youth, our young people, our next leaders, they need to know that we are here for them and that we’re interested in them and that takes investment.”
Cole indicated that when representative do their duties to the fullest extent, they should be tired.
“I feel that if you are a public servant, if you are really serving the public in a way that is for the good, you will get tired,” Cole said. “And you’re not going to want to be in office for that long.”
Cole believes races for state representative are every two years for a reason.
“What I’ve learned so far in campaigning is you have about six months to do what you need to do after you take office and then you’re going to start campaigning,” Peffer said. “Every representative has to have enough time to make a significant impact, but they shouldn’t be able to ride the wave and get the per diem and get the pension so rapidly.”
MOST PRESSING ISSUE
The state’s budget deficit, Peffer indicated, is the most pressing issue facing the 10th district.
“Going forward, how do we fix the fiscal irresponsibility that’s been occurring with our budgeting?” Peffer asked. “What we need to do is focus on the health of our economy in Pennsylvania and bring down our budget deficit.”
He continued that financial hardships stemming from COVID-19 were also a contributing factor to the deficit.
For Cole, COVID-19 and education funding are the biggest issues.
“We should be investing in our kids’ future,” Cole said. “We can’t be investing in our kids’ future if we’re 44th in the nation for education funding.”
Cole explained the issue of education equity and how zip codes should determine the quality of education.