Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., has a decent shot at unseating Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett next year. If she wins, she would be the first woman governor in a notoriously difficult state for female politicians. A fiscal moderate who helped found the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition, she plays up her pro-growth stances and plays down her abortion-rights views and her role as a woman politician. National Journal sat down with her recently. Edited excerpts of the interview follow.
How do you define your gubernatorial campaign?
The race very much follows the conversation we've had a bit about budgets, which is how do we grow as a state; how do we see economic growth. The reason we're taking on Tom Corbett is, under his watch, we've moved to the bottom 10 states in economic growth. For several months, we were 49th in the nation. That is unreasonable for a state with as great assets as we have. We have the Marcellus shale [natural-gas deposit]. And we have potential for a cheap energy source, domestically grown, in Pennsylvania — a source of inexpensive energy, one of the biggest costs for manufacturers. We have the opportunity, done right, to attract advanced manufacturing. We have companies that are expanding because of that. How do we use some of that wealth, not just to have energy companies make significant profits, which they will and of course they should.
You propose a 5 percent tax for companies accessing that resource.
It's a very moderate tax. It is less than Texas, which is 7.5 percent. It is less than Oklahoma, which is 7 percent. It is the same as West Virginia, which is 5 percent. So I'm choosing a very moderate path here. I want to be sure that energy companies are coming and getting that natural gas. I want to make sure they're doing it right.
Where does the tax money go?
My goal is, it's voluntary, not mandatory, but universal pre-K access for all 4-year-olds in Pennsylvania. That won't be done in the first year. Nobody has to send their children to the schools.
But it's mandatory for schools to offer it.
Yes, and we might target how we do that, but there would have to be availability. How we do it is more complex. Schools have Head Start. Schools do full-day kindergarten. There is a system of preschool that isn't tied to the school districts per se. There are child-care centers all over the state, and that would be included. So it would not necessarily have to be done by the school districts.
How did you land on pre-K as an issue to champion?
We have district attorneys and sheriffs and people who are experts in crime prevention saying one of the things you can do is make sure kids are successful in school, and it starts early. What we also know is that if a child fails in first or second or third grade, it's very hard for them to catch up. So what you want to do is have the child be ready to learn be successful in the early years, and one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that child actually comes to school ready to learn.
You ran an abortion clinic in Philadelphia. How is your abortion-rights stance affecting your campaign?
We talk about my moderate credentials, on fiscal responsibility on the role of government, [as well as] my attitude toward the private sector and public-private partnerships and the way we grow the economy. I have a really clear record on my credentials, and as someone who cares deeply and has acted on fiscal responsibility. This is not a question that would be raised here in Washington.
It's not being raised here. It's being raised in Pennsylvania.
Let me say this, on the issue of choice and reproductive rights, the fact is that Pennsylvanians believe, as I do, that women should be safe, that women should have access to women's health services. This really is much more about Governor Corbett. His position is out of the mainstream in terms of what Pennsylvanians believe. They do not agree with this governor on his position on access to women's health services and reproductive rights. They don't. The outlier here is clearly Governor Corbett.
As a moderate Democrat, how do you view the budget debate in Washington?
I've been very outspoken about the importance of paying for what we spend, to start. We need to also look at tax expenditures as part of cost in the budget. That's important, but then actually doing this in a balanced approach, doing this with a long view, so that [spending is] not cut so dramatically to harm our recovery and our economic growth.
Can you do that?
I think so, and there is a path forward. The problem is, we don't really have another partner on the other side.
Have you heard anything from the other side that gives you hope that congressional Democrats can bridge this gap?
In the last couple of weeks, no, honestly. And that sounds harsh. I do think there's a path forward for this year's budget and this year's appropriations. There is a place where we can agree on a number between what the Senate's done and what the House might want to do. I think that's pretty important to create some stability and certainty to have appropriations bills that are decided for the rest of the year. Let's get through to October 1, you know?