With less than a week until primary day, state Rep. Patty Kim (D) and challenger Gina Johnson-Roberson squared off at a debate Wednesday, in which Kim defended her record during her first term in office.
Kim represents the 103rd House district, which includes Harrisburg and surrounding communities. She narrowly won the Democratic primary in 2012 after serving on Harrisburg City Council. Kim and Johnson-Roberson are the only two candidates on the Democratic ballot in Tuesday’s primary.
“It was a shock. I have to be honest, to have a friend run against me,” said Kim, noting she and Johnson-Roberson have worked together on campaigns in the past.
Johnson-Roberson said she was “disappointed in some things, like how (Kim) voted on the transportation bill.”
The bill she’s referencing passed the General Assembly last fall with Kim’s support. It raises billions of dollars for road projects by increasing a variety of driver fees and lifting the cap on the wholesale tax oil companies pay.
“That bill affects our gas going back and forth to work, and it affects the fees at PennDOT,” said Johnson-Roberson.
Kim said, “It will bring jobs. The bill has an expansion of (interstates) 81, 83, a lot of bridge work. And, that will help construction workers in the area.”
The Dauphin County Democratic Committee has not endorsed either candidate. The group Harrisburg Hope sponsored Wednesday’s debate.
The two agreed on several issues, such as raising the minimum wage, instituting a severance tax on companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale and legalizing medical marijuana.
Early in the debate, moderator Alan Kennedy-Shaffer asked about the controversy surrounding the city school district’s state-appointed chief recovery officer, Gene Veno. Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse (D) has called for the state’s acting secretary of education to replace Veno, saying during closed-door conversations, Veno expressed doubt about his own recovery plan working.
“I believe my opponent didn’t answer your question about Gene Veno. I’d keep Gene. Gene has worked with the school district,” said Johnson-Roberson.
After the debate, Kim said, “I never wanted him to resign. He came to me, said he was having a lot of difficulties and he was suffering in his position. So, as a friend, I said this job maybe isn’t for you.”
Polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.