December 2009

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In Their Own Words
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Joe Hoeffel answers a few questions about the 2010 Pennsylvania Senate race. (Video by PA Progressive)
In Their Own Words

Joe Hoeffel, Democratic Candidate for Governor

---interviewed by Charles Smolover

Joe Hoeffel served three terms in Congress representing the Montgomery County-based 13th congressional district, and is currently vice-chair for the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. From 1977 through 1985, he served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and was the first Democrat to represent the Abington area since World War I. Hoeffel was the Democratic Nominee for U.S. Senate in the 2004 general election against incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Arlen Specter.

PJV: What are the two most important challenges facing Pennsylvania right now?

The first is strengthening our economy so that we can create jobs and the second is restoring faith in our government – dealing with the culture of corruption and partisanship we have in Harrisburg.

PJV: One of your challengers in the Democratic primary, Allegheny County Executive Don Onorato, released a plan last week to address some of those ethical challenges in Harrisburg, including cutting the size of the legislature and enacting a law to withhold the pay of legislators if they failed to pass a budget by a certain deadline. How realistic are any of these goals and how much power does any governor really have to reform Harrisburg?

The governor has potentially a lot of power. It all depends on the relationship he or she has with the legislature, the coalitions she or she can build. And that ability is desperately needed right now. I don't want to point fingers, as there is plenty of blame to go around and both parties are at fault, but I do have a track record of working effectively across the aisle. I am doing it right now as a county commissioner, and I did it when I served as a legislator. That is something my Democratic opponents in the primary cannot claim. While I have great respect for our current governor, I believe I differ from him in that I actually like legislators. I used to be one and I understand what their goals, ambitions and fears are. And I believe I can work with legislators of both parties. The governor must acknowledge that the legislature is a co-equal branch of government.

PJV: Speaking of our current governor, will you be seeking Gov. Rendell's endorsement?

I would love to have his endorsement, but my impression is that he is going to remain neutral through the primary.

PJV: When it comes to Democratic politics in the state, there used to be a great divide between east and west, with Democrats on one end of the state reluctant to embrace candidates from the opposite side. How will your campaign address this dynamic?

It is still a major factor in the primary, but the Democratic power in Pennsylvania has shifted form the west to the east. The suburban counties around Pittsburgh no longer vote Democratic like they once did, and the suburban counties around Philadelphia now do vote Democratic for the fist time ever. This is my political base, and recent elections have shown that state and national candidates who carry Pennsylvania must carry those suburban Philadelphia districts. I would also argue that our party's best chance in the general election against [likely Republican nominee] Tom Corbett is not a slightly less conservative Democrat from the west, like Onorato or [current Auditor General] Jack Wagner, but a progressive Democrat from the east.

PJV: How do you think that progressive label is going to play in the large T-shaped section of our state some jokingly refer to as Pennsyltucky?

I consider myself a pragmatic progressive, and by that I mean someone who is socially liberal but fiscally responsible. So I want the government to take an active role to help people who are the most vulnerable, invest in public education and job creation, but to do all that with a balanced budget and sustainable financing so that the public can support the programs we need. By stressing the fact that I am socially liberal, I naturally focus on one of the two challenges I already mentioned, and that is creating jobs. I think that will appeal to Democrats everywhere in the state in the primary and to lots of Republicans in the general election.

PJV: How is your focus on job creation going to affect taxes in Pennsylvania?

I am not advocating for any income tax increases, but I am in favor of income tax reform. Our current flat tax is regressive, and I would like to see Pennsylvania adopt a fairer, graduated tax. That will require a change in our state constitution, so there is a lot of work ahead of us on that issue. However, I am in favor of a natural gas extraction tax. The Marcellus Shale formation covers over 4/5 of Pennsylvania and has tremendous potential for both creating jobs and serving our energy needs. But it also has the potential to negatively impact our environment. At the moment, we're increasing the issuing of drilling permits while cutting environmental spending by a third. That's not smart. An extraction tax could raise $100 million annually that could be used to restore funding to protect and improve the environment.

PJV: Are you in favor of putting tolls on Interstate 80 to increase revenues?

Definitely. We need to double the revenue we have earmarked for roads, bridges and mass transit, and tolls on I-80 are part of that. If we do not toll I-80 we are going to lose half the funding that we thought we had under Act 44. In addition to that toll, I am proposing that we increase the gas tax and other user fees. I think people will be willing to pay more if they know the money is guaranteed to go back into transportation infrastructure improvement. At the moment, we're not even keeping up with current maintenance, which is something we just have to do. Beyond that there are critically important projects that are essential to improving our quality of life and our economy. For example, repaving the section of I-95 that goes through Philadelphia, building a second bridge on Route 422 from Valley Forge to Pottstown, adding lanes to I-81 and to Route 15 that goes north from Harrisburg. And there are many others. Industry groups have already formed in support of doubling transportation revenue and I endorse their efforts. I know that my opponents are going to shy away from the issue of the gas tax and tolling I-80, but you get what you pay for.

PJV: PJV: Getting back to politics in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is the only state that does not tax smokeless tobacco? What does that say about the culture of our state government.

It's all part of the hyper-partisanship both here and in Washington that keeps everyone in a constant campaign mode with constant attacks and little effort to reach middle ground. The climate has definitely changed since I was a legislator. In those days, you'd go out for a beer with colleagues, you'd see friends from across the aisle, you'd share a drink or have sandwich and there was the kind of basic goodwill you need to build coalitions. Unfortunately, that is not the case today. The good news is that the governor, more than any other single political figure, sets the tone for political discourse in Harrisburg. And I am committed to working overtime to build the kind of relationships we need to solve problems.

PJV: You mentioned going out for drinks. Is there any chance under a Hoeffel administration of dismantling our current system of selling liquor?

I have no intention of changing it. The system is greatly improved from where it was 20 years ago. We have much better selection, prices and service. And I believe there is some value in having the state regulate that particular industry. But I would like to see the state get better discounts and pass those savings on to consumers.

To view previous editions of "In Their Own Words", please click here.

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