Senate candidates discuss US security, opioid crisis

Blair County GOP group hosts forum for Republicans vying to beat Casey

Four Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls visited Penn State Altoona’s campus Saturday, where they participated in a candidate forum, speaking about national issues and their planned solutions.

The forum, hosted by the Blair County Republican Committee, was the first of its kind for the 2018 election cycle, committee Chair­woman Lois Kaneshiki said.

“This is the only forum of its kind before the important Pennsylvania Republican Party regional straw polls, which will take place in January,” she said in an email, also repeating the fact at the forum.

In attendance Saturday was Senate candidate Paul Addis of Delaware County, a longtime businessman and energy company executive, who spoke of his workplace beginnings as a janitor and fast-food restaurant employee.

“My career was built on being the … agent of change,” Addis said. “I’m someone who believes that government needs to change and become much more efficient.”

Cynthia E. Ayers of Adams County, also a candidate, works in intelligence as deputy to the executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. On Saturday, she touted that expertise.

“I’ve been in intelligence almost my entire career,” she said, later calling for changes to remove the “elitist political class” from government.

State Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, also is seeking election to the U.S. Senate. Christiana opened with a reference to cost-saving legislation he sponsored on the state level.

“I have a proven record,” he said, noting a need for economic reform on the national level.

Lastly, Bobby Lawrence of Waynesboro, a small business owner, was in attendance, singing the praises of President Donald Trump.

“President Trump inspired me. He made it OK to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ He made it OK to say ‘God bless you,'” Lawrence said, later promising to “defend the American dream” and to “make America great again.”

The four candidates are among those seeking election to a seat currently occupied by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., whose term expires in 2018.

Casey is one of several Democratic senators up for re-election in states won by Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Candidates were asked a total of 10 questions, which focused on national issues, including the Affordable Care Act, North Korea, education, gun-related rules and Planned Parenthood Funding, among numerous others.

Each candidate also had time to voice opinions on how he or she would take action to combat growing opioid drug abuse across the country.

“This is one of the saddest issues I think we’ll have to talk about today,” Christiana said, explaining that state lawmakers have been able to work toward bipartisan efforts to address the issue.

Christiana said he’d like to see the same efforts on a national level, allowing assistance to law enforcement while targeting the pharmaceutical companies, which he called “drug dealers in lab coats.”

Lawrence suggested studying how those drugs are distributed and said he has already begun to research the issue, finding that some areas are receiving three times more opioid prescriptions than they should be.

“It’s very disturbing,” he said.

Addis also spoke about focusing opioid drug production companies, but he said some responsibility should be placed on families and community institutions like churches that can provide information about the danger of drug use and “about right and wrong.”

Ayers used the opioid-related question to tackle another issue: medical marijuana.

She said she is opposed to legalizing marijuana, and claimed that the drug often can become a gateway to opioid abuse.

Kaneshiki referred to recent mass shootings and other domestic terrorist events, asking the candidates how they would work to thwart similar attacks and improve public safety.

Christiana called for “secure borders, as well as a system that would better allow federal, state and local law enforcement officers to cooperate.

Ayers spoke about secure borders, too, telling those in attendance “we need to build a wall for one thing.”

Addis noted the importance of border security, but he admitted that most recent tragedies have been perpetrated by Americans. He called for more aggressive law enforcement and putting a system in place to better identify warning signs of a pending attack.

“We must accept that this mainly has been a domestic issue,” Addis said.

Lawrence’s approach to tackling the issue honed in on gun-ownership rights, which he said Americans should use to arm themselves for self-defense.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11th District, also spoke at the event. The congressman, who also is running for Casey’s Senate seat, was not in attendance.

Senate candidates will compete for a spot on the general election ballot during 2018’s May primary.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.