Shared from the 9/18/2018 Mon Valley Independent eEdition

Candidates clash on issues at MARC forum

Incumbents Camera Bartolotta and Bud Cook were at the event with prospective office seekers Steve Toprani and James Craig.


Taylor Brown / Mon Valley Independent Steven Arnowitz of Monongahela asks a question during Monday night’s Town Hall Meeting sponsored by the Monongahela Area Revitalization Corporation.

Mon Valley constituents who wanted to hear what candidates hoping for their votes in November had to say filled the Monongahela Fire Department social hall Monday night for the Monongahela Area Revitalization Corporation 12th annual Town Hall Meeting.

A pair of Republican incumbents, state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll Township, and state Rep. Bud Cook, R-West Pike Run Township, joined Democrat Steve Toprani, who is hoping to earn the 49th Legislative District seat in the state House currently held by Cook, and Democrat James Craig, a 46th Senatorial District candidate, for the panel discussion.

Instead of a debate, the event was hosted in a question-and-answer style.

MARC President George Eckert said the organization wanted to open the floor up to “the people who will cast your vote.”

Residents sought answers to questions ranging from widespread issues such as funding for Planned Parenthood to more local problems such as what is being done to help sportsman and hunters in the area who are struggling with streams that need stocked.

While not all questions were directed to all four candidates, each had two minutes to respond to each one.

A topic brought up more than once by several residents, addressed the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana.

While in support of medical cannabis, Bartolotta doesn’t agree with making it legal recreationally, citing how hard it is to measure the way the drug affects the brain in different stages of development.

“For months and months we saw these moms bringing their kids to the Capitol, some of them having seizures,” she said in defense of medical marijuana. “It was horrific to see what was going on knowing full well there was a medication out there that was available in other places that had the ability to give them a better quality of life.” Craig said the state could benefit from legalizing the drug recreationally — specifically to bring tax revenue for public education. “It is way past time we finally decriminalize and legalize marijuana in this state,” Craig said. “Not that I think everyone should have it or that I am proponent of engaging in recreational marijuana; it just makes sense at this point and time.” He said money from the taxation of cannabis could be earmarked for public schooling and possibly put $1.1 billion into education. Toprani, a former Washington County District Attorney, said he agrees with Craig on the regulation and taxation of the drug, but it was not an easy decision to reach. “It took me a while to arrive at that conclusion,” Toprani said. “I spent hours and hours of my life investigating and prosecuting drug cases, and what we are doing to non-violent offenders is shocking.” If legalized and taxed, he said funding could be dedicated to the treatment of dealing with opioid and narcotics addition as well as mental health treatments. Cook is on the fence when it comes to cannabis. “I don’t see a problem with medical marijuana,” Cook said. “But recreationally, I am on the middle on that one.” Some issues addressed were more complicated than others, such as failing infrastructure and flooding waterways — but candidates agreed it is their job to get attention from the right people. “We don’t have magic wands, but we can certainly get people to return our calls,” Cook said. “It’s a much bigger issue.” “The person you send to Harrisburg has to be able to communicate with federally elected officials,” Craig added. Local elected officials such as Fallowfield Township Supervisor Bruce Smith and Monongahela Mayor Bob Kepics also had questions regarding the “red tape” communities go through in dealing with permits for local projects — especially with the DEP — and impact fees and taxation of the oil and gas industry. Bartolotta said when she wants to get things done she goes straight to the top of departments — such as the DEP — and holds frequent meetings with the appropriate representatives of such departments. “You have to go straight to the top with it,” she said. Toprani said the work of locally elected officials is not an easy job and cited a local community he is currently representing that is dealing with “red tape” surrounding a deteriorating building that is on the verge of collapse. Putting such strict guidelines and requirements in place — particularly in emergency situations — is obstructive, he said. “It holds communities back from dealing with the real issues,” Toprani said. Cook said the issue will require a cultural leadership chance “from the top down,” while Craig said more collaboration is needed to speed up such processes through public-private partnerships. Candidates also discussed school property taxes, unionization, minimum wage and the future of the Mon Valley.

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