Bucks County Herald

Candidates spar in battle for 178th District

Special election scheduled along with primary

BIRGITTA WOLFE

Democrat Helen Tai and Republican Wendi Thomas attracted on audience of some 100-plus people May 2 to hear each argue why she should be the one to fill the six-month unexpired term vacated in January by the GOP’s Scott Petri in the state House of Representatives.

A special election to fill the term in the 178th District will be held May 15 and all registered votes – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – are eligible to vote.

On the same day, a second election will be held in the 178th where Democrats and Republicans will vote in their separate primaries to pick their respective candidates for the November general election.

Both Tai and Thomas plan to run in both elections.

The 178th includes New Hope, Solebury, Northampton, Upper Makefield and Wrightstown.

“You get to vote twice in one day,” said moderator Connie Borichevsky, director of advocacy for the League of Women Voters which sponsored the forum at the Anchor Presbyterian Church in Wrightstown.

Introducing herself, Thomas, a former Council Rock school board member from Northampton, emphasized the need for consensus building, adding “I am not a politician, I am not the devil.”

Tai, a Solebury resident and member of the township’s board of supervisors, said as the daughter of Chinese immigrants who came to the U.S. looking for the good life for her, she “can now give back to the community.”

State budgeting and subsequent stalemates were on the minds of many in the audience who submitted questions for the candidates.

“The only way to solve it is to work together. If there’s no answer, we should work under last year’s budget,” Thomas said.

Tai responded she would sponsor legislation mandating that if legislators don’t pass a balanced budget, they wouldn’t get paid.

The partisan stalemate in the House made up of 80 Democrats and 119 Republicans concerned several questioners.

“It’s most frustrating. The solution is not to be in the minority anymore,” smiled Tai, a Democrat. “We have to reach across the aisle. Once we talk to each other, that’s how we get the best solution.”

Thomas said a solution would be to reduce the size to 150, extend the two-year House terms from two to four years, and place a two-term limit on the legislators.

Tai agreed with the reduction, saying, “hopefully it would create more consensus,” and, as an aside, “fewer people to argue with.”

The candidates did find common ground on several issues.

Both agreed residents should be able to sue the gas industry over gas line routes and fracking.
“I’m not for restricting citizens from suing,” Thomas said, adding she supports a permanent ban on pipelines.

“Especially since the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) doesn’t enforce” regulations, Tai added.

“”Many accidents occur with pipelines which would destroy preserved properties” for the profit of companies that plan to export the gas anyway,” she said.

Both also supported a ban on military style assault weapons.

“This is not a political issue. We need a comprehensive plan. A gun ban alone won’t do it,” Thomas said.

As for arming teachers in the wake of several national school shootings, both candidates opposed the idea.

“I’m opposed. Teachers are not there to pretend they’re Rambo,” Tai said, noting even police hit their target only 18 percent of the time. “People get killed by guns when there are guns around.”

Thomas agreed, but supported the idea of safety officers in schools.

On the issue to legalizing marijuana, both supported its medical use, but reserved judgment on recreational use. Tai added there has to be a way for police to test drivers for impairment due to marijuana.

For the opioid abuse problem, it is a “state obligation to take a leadership role to bring groups together” to find solutions, Thomas said.

“Opioid addiction a medical disease and needs to be treated that way (with a) look at prevention and education,” Tai said.

Summing up, Thomas said, “I can help bring tax money back to the 178th” and touted bipartisan support for her election. “You listen to all the people. We should not divide. We should bring them together.”

Tai said, “I know how to solve problems. You don’t say, ‘it’s always been done this way.’

“The status quo is not working,” Tai said referring to the stalemate in Harrisburg where bills sit in committee for years. “A vote for my opponent is a vote for more of the same.”

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