Candidates talk issues at forum

LEWISBURG — Candidates for 12th Congress agree that the U.S. needs to find better ways to work collaboratively to benefit all Americans.

Republican Fred Keller and Democrat Mark Friedenberg both want better paying jobs, expanded broadband service and improved education and health care to help the region as well as the nation forward.

They don’t necessarily agree with the same policies for achieving these goals.

The political forum at the Country Cupboard drew several hundred people who heard the candidates talk on issues ranging from the environment to immigration.

Keller, a state House member from Middleburg, made it clear while addressing different issues that less government is the best government.

Friedenberg, a Penn State University educator, was less critical of government policies.

In his opening statement, Keller told the audience he was someone who has “lived the American Dream.”

He said he came from a poor family and went to work after high school.

He managed to work his way up to the manager of a lumber company, while also starting his own property management business before later successfully running for state office.

Friedenberg described himself as a health care advocate who stands up for people.

He said the major problems of the 12th House District stem from its lack of opportunities for young people who leave the area for better opportunities elsewhere.

“The system no longer works for everyone,” he said.

He called for business incubators, which support budding entrepreneurs and expanded broadband to enhance education and health care.

Overall, he said it comes down to focusing on common goals.

Keller said people of the region are intelligent and hardworking.

“They don’t want government defining them,” he said.

He said they want good jobs too, but investments are needed in education and broadband and energy development.

The candidates were asked what Congress can do to solve the nation’s major problems.

Friedenberg said it involves having arguments without being combative.

Too many people, he said, are fearful — of losing their Social Security benefits and their jobs and lacking the ability to send their kids to college.

“We aren’t listening to each other,” he said. “It leads to demonization.”

Keller said people are tired of the gridlock in Congress.

He referred to the recent investigation of President Trump and the need for Congress to concentrate on the nation’s needs.

“My opponent says more investigations,” he said.

He said as a businessman he knows how to solve problems.

Candidates were asked about President Trump’s imposition of trade tariffs.

“The President’s approach may be unconventional but we have to give him some latitude,” Keller said.

Friedenberg said the U.S. — the nation with the biggest economy — must play fair with other countries.

He acknowledged nations such as China don’t always play by the rules.

“We need to look at industry leaders before imposing tariffs,” he said.

The candidates agreed that investments in infrastructure can help move the economy forward.

Friedenberg said he supports the formation of an infrastructure bank for funding such projects.

Keller pointed to his own efforts in the state House toward infrastructure investments.

But he said Gov. Wolf has pushed burdensome tax policies that make it hard for the state to realize such projects.

The candidates addressed Trump’s immigration and border security policies.

Keller called for a “physical barrier and boots on the ground.”

It comes down to closing the country to illegal immigration and opening it to legal immigration.

“We need a comprehensive policy,” he said.

Friedenberg said it’s a shame the issue has become a political football.

Everyone, he said, wants border security.

He called for ensuring the laws are being followed and having more judges to consider asylum claims.

Keller spoke out in opposition to the Green New Deal, a proposed stimulus program that aims to address climate change and economic inequality.

He said the Green New Deal isn’t about the environment, but rather government control.

Protecting the environment, Keller said, amounts to being responsible.

He pointed to his own efforts as a state representative to prevent a tire burning facility to operate in his district.

Friedenberg said environmental programs can mean a plus for the economy.

He pointed to his father, “a climate denier,” who had solar panels placed at his home because it meant long-term energy saving costs.

“If we support programs for different reasons, I can work with them,” he said. “We can be leaders in renewable energy.”

He said the U.S. has the skilled workforce to help the U.S. be energy independent.

Each candidate gave a closing statement.

Friedenberg said everyone must work together toward a common goal.

He said he can be the leader that brings about good legislation.

Keller said it’s all about a vision and for the people to define their government, rather than government defining its people.

That includes, he said, the nation’s health care, which must not be given over to the government.