Much like voters in this year's presidential election, those casting ballots in the 79th state House District race can see contrasts - even though both candidates are associate professors at Penn State Altoona.
A Blair County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored debate Thursday between Republican John McGinnis and Democrat Richard Flarend illustrated that, especially on labor issues.
McGinnis, who defeated incumbent Rep. Rick Geist in the primary, favors transforming Pennsylvania into a right-to-work state, where employees couldn't be forced to join or financially support a union, if a union is in place in a firm.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Republican John?McGinnis (left)?and Democrat Richard Flarend square off in a debate Thursday at the Blair County Convention Center. The candidates are running for the 79th state House District seat.
Right-to-work is morally right, because workers should be able to choose, McGinnis said. It also attracts both capital and labor, helping to propel the economy, McGinnis said, citing a bigger increase in jobs in right to work Virginia than in Pennsylvania in recent years.
Union shops are one of the factors that have led people to leave our state in recent times, "because we do not embrace freedom," he said.
Right-to-work is wrong, because it allows non-union workers to "freeload" at union workplaces, by getting the benefits without helping to pay, said Flarend, who won a write-in campaign in the primary.
Right-to-work weakens unions, he said. And unions need strengthened, so they can provide a necessary check to the power of private corporations, allow workers to provide adequately for their families and help all workers by leading the way on compensation and benefits, Flarend said.
Flarend favors keeping the state's prevailing wage law, which ensures that public projects above a certain cost pay wages that critics describe as over-generous.
Prevailing wages help ensure quality construction on projects where quality construction is essential, like roads, bridges, schools, government buildings and libraries, Flarend said.
Public jobs go out to bid, and if contractors could low-ball the labor component of their bids and still succeed, they would, which would put their less-skilled workers on those jobs and result in buildings that wouldn't last as long or work as well, said Flarend, who added that the state should let the trigger costs rise with inflation.
Market forces should determine wages, McGinnis said.
"A willing buyer and a willing seller," he said. "Where does government get the idea they know best?"
McGinnis favors transforming public-sector defined-benefit pensions into defined-contribution programs.
The job he's seeking at the ballot box has a pension program that ultimately could cost taxpayers $50,000 a year, if he were to accept it and stay in office long enough, he said.
Those kinds of benefits are unsustainable for taxpayers, he said.
"It's public service, not personal enrichment," he said.
But defined-benefit pensions make sense, because they're efficient and effective, Flarend said.
The alternative is a personal pension, which requires the individual to assume he'll live until about 90, to ensure that if he does, he'll have enough to live on, Flarend said. By contrast, public pension plans can plan sensibly, based on actuarial calculations that depend on a large enough covered population, he said.
Asked at the close of the debate to talk about matters closest to their heart - or most important to the race - McGinnis spoke of being pro-life.
Flarend was not, he suggested.
False, according to Flarend, who said he makes an exception in cases of rape and danger to the mother.
He challenged McGinnis to come clean about his past, which included an argument for legalization of drugs.
In recent months, McGinnis has said that he made that argument in an academic essay arguing that the war on drugs has been ineffective and may violate some principles of liberty important for the nation. He believes the right approach to dealing with drugs is on the demand side, with community and social outreach, he said then.
"If you're hooked on drugs, there's no liberty," Flarend said.