Democrats running for Pa. attorney general agree on guns, abortion rights, and TikTok during debate • Pennsylvania Capital-Star

The five candidates running for the Democratic Party nomination for Pennsylvania attorney general faced off in a debate on Wednesday where they addressed gun violence, abortion rights, and TikTok. 

The debate, was hosted by ABC27 news anchor Dennis Owens, who put individual questions to each candidate, showing few differences among them. 

Joe Khan, a former Bucks County solicitor and federal prosecutor, was asked why should Democrats statewide support him, given he lost in the crowded Democratic primary for Philadelphia District Attorney in 2017 to Larry Krasner.

“I’m not only the most qualified person to run for this office, we are closing the enthusiasm gap that Democrats have to address all across Pennsylvania,” Khan said. He added that he would be able to push back on Republican claims of a Democrat being “soft on crime,” because he spent 16 years as a prosecutor and solicitor in Bucks County. 

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer responded to potential criticism from voters over whether it’s dangerous for him to tout a 30% reduction in Delaware County’s prison population.  “Anybody who would say that would be completely wrong,” Stollsteimer said. “What we’ve done in Delaware County is balanced criminal justice reform with public safety.”

Stollsteimer pointed to his effort to deprivatize the only privately run prison in the state, keeping low level offenders out of the criminal justice system, and implementing community policing to reduce gun violence in Chester.

Former Philadelphia Chief Public Defender Keir Bradford-Grey was asked what skills she brings to the office, given that the state has never elected a public defender as its attorney general.  “I’m running to be the people’s lawyer, and that’s what the attorney general is in every other state other than Pennsylvania,” Bradford-Grey said. 

She added that with her in the attorney general’s office, she would protect people’s basic needs, go after people in the boardroom, target crime where it is needed, and protect women’s reproductive rights. 

Former Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who also served in the state House and ran for Congress in 2020, responded to potential criticism of being labeled as a “professional office seeker.”

“I’ve run statewide twice. I’ve won twice, including once when Trump was on the ballot,” DePasquale said. “Why was I able to win? Because people know my record of fighting for Pennsylvania.”

DePasquale touted investigations led by his auditor general’s office, that included one that found over 3,000 untested rape kits. He said he has “the spine to take on big corporations.”

State Rep. Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia), who is also running for reelection to his state House seat, responded to a question about critics who prefer a candidate to pursue one office at a time.

“I love serving my neighborhood. We’ve taken my community and we’ve brought it back,” Solomon responded, saying his community was previously forgotten about. “I want to continue the work, both in my community and will be able to do that on a bigger level by ensuring safety and security not just in Northeast Philadelphia, but throughout our Commonwealth.”

Solomon said as an elected official he’s written tough ethics laws and protected his district from “Trump Republicans” who aimed to threaten abortion and voting rights. 

On the issues

All of the candidates agreed that access to firearms is a root cause of violent crime in the state and pledged to support measures intended to curtail gun violence. 

“A lot of the violent crime we’re seeing driven on our streets is driven by the fact that we have easy access to firearms from people who should not have them,” Stollsteimer said.

“We need to make sure that we go after gun retailers and suppliers and hold them to the same standards of scrutiny as we do people on the street corner making stupid decisions,” Bradford-Grey said. 

DePasquale agreed and added that addressing mental health and fully funding education is a key aspect of addressing violent crime across the state.

Solomon touted the work that the state House has done passing “common sense gun reforms,” like reducing high capacity clips, red flag laws, and an assault weapons ban and stressed the need for investing in gun violence task forces.

Khan pointed to a collaborative effort when he coordinated the violent crime impact team in the U.S. Attorney’s Office to address gun violence in southwest Philadelphia, saying that approach would be effective statewide. 

Artificial intelligence

All of the Democratic candidates agreed that artificial intelligence is a threat and needs to be addressed. 

“I barely understand artificial intelligence to be honest with you, but what I do understand scares me,” Stollsteimer said. He added that Pennsylvania needs to work with legislators in the federal system and work with those with knowledge of AI so they can recommend what barriers need to be put in place to keep everyone safe.

Bradford-Grey said it’s time to push back on the big tech companies, arguing that artificial intelligence is “creating addiction” in teenages over social media, while adding that she believes social media is also playing a role in gun violence.

“We have to make sure that we’re not only looking at the short term goals, but the long term goals and the long term impacts that AI, as well as their product, that is creating addiction in teenagers,” Bradford-Grey said. 

“My biggest concern when it comes to AI and social media is the threat they bring to democracy,” DePasquale said. He said there is a need to get ahead of the curve on the matter and also touted his work as auditor general in 2020 to help secure a safe election in Pennsylvania.

Solomon said the issue of artificial intelligence is a great example of the expansive power of the Attorney General’s office in the state. 

“I would form a task force on AI,” Solomon said, that would determine what the appropriate guardrails would be and work with the legislature to ensure bills get to the governor’s desk addressing the matter.

Khan said that there are good people in the legislature trying to address this, but added they can’t keep up with the rapid development of AI, and argued that protection on threats to the election and consumers can be provided through court action. During his tenure as solicitor he and other elected officials in Bucks County, sued tech companies

“We’re going to work with attorney generals across the country on these tough issues, but Pennsylvania is going to be a leader,” Khan said.

TikTok concerns

Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity (R) has banned the use of TikTok on state treasury devices, while the state Senate unanimously passed a bill that would prohibit the use of TikTok on all state devices and networks.  

All of the candidates said they support these bans. 

“It’s a threat to our country. It’s a threat to our security, and it’s certainly a threat to the mental health of our young people,” DePasquale said. “We’ve got to put a stop to this.”

Khan said Bucks County was the first county in the nation to sue TikTok and ban it on government devices. 

“They cannot be trusted and we need to make sure that we protect Pennsylvanians,” Khan said. 

“They’re the worst of the worst. This turns us inward,” Solomon said. “They are preying on our young people, they’re increasing the mental health crisis.”

Stollsteimer joked that his two 18 year-old children were going to kill him for his answer, but he assured that he supports those TikTok bans. 

“It has no value,” Stollsteimer said of the platform.

“The threats to us in terms of the TikTok opportunity to get into our resources is too big,” Bradford-Grey said.

All of the candidates also agreed that marijuana should be legalized for recreational purposes, will use the office to protect abortion rights, and protect consumers from “junk fees.”

Looking ahead

The Democratic race for attorney general is the only statewide race where the Pennsylvania Democratic Party did not make an endorsement, since none of the candidates cleared the two-thirds threshold needed at the state committee meeting in December. 

York County District Attorney Dave Sunday, who has the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, and state Rep. Craig Williams (R-Delaware) are both seeking the Republican Party nomination for attorney general. They will face off in a debate hosted by ABC27 on Thursday. 

April 8 is the last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania for the primary election. Applications for a mail-in or absentee ballot must be received by your county election board by no later than April 16 at 5 p.m

The Pennsylvania primary election is April 23.



Originally published at penncapital-star.com,by John Cole

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