Can Allyson Schwartz Take Her State Back?

The Democratic congresswoman wants to unseat Republican Gov. Tom Corbett — but she will need to craft a resonant economic message to do it.

Rep. Allyson Schwartz
National Journal
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Oct. 31, 2013, 5 p.m.

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?

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