A New Progressive Governor Takes Office

I spent yesterday roaming around the Capitol building as Tom Wolf took the oath of office as Pennsylvania’s 47th Governor.  Because of my recent Achilles tendon injury I hadn’t gotten a ticket or press credentials because I didn’t know if I’d be healthy enough to attend.  As it was I limped around using a cane and paid for it by the time I returned to Reading with a very painful ankle.  I applied some medication for the swelling though and all is well this morning.  Being on my feet remains a challenge until it fully heals.

Still it was great to be back in Harrisburg and chat and visit with many friends and legislators.  I got some interesting information, met new Chief of Staff Katie McGinty, congratulated consultant and now Director of Legislative Affairs Mary Isenhour on a spectacular job and watched the inauguration on one of several large screen televisions mounted inside the Capitol.  I remained warm on this grey, cold afternoon though it meant missing out on being able to get many good pictures.  

The former Governors in attendance were clustered in a corner outside the cafe and I got a few pictures of them.

Former Governor and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge:

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Outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett:

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I met several of the candidates for state judgeships, chatted briefly with Dan Onorato, the Democratic candidate for Governor four years ago and many others.

Wolf campaigned on the premise that he’d give Pennsylvania a “fresh start” and that he would be “a different kind of Governor.”  He already has set that tone by not residing in the Governor’s Mansion but commuting from his home in nearby York County.  He will also continue using his own vehicle, the famous Jeep.  He has dictated that no one on his staff accept gifts, heresy in the cesspool of corruption which is our state capital.

He faces a Republican led legislature which increased its majorities in both the House and Senate all the while the progressive Democrat was waltzing away with the Gubernatorial race.  As such he said “We have to respect each other’s ideas, each other’s values” as his approach to building some sort of consensus with the other Party.

Wolf’s two biggest goals are to enact a 5% extraction tax on natural gas to fund education and to change the state constitution to allow progressive taxation.   Both are poison to the many Teapublicans in the legislature.  Sen. Jake Corman dethroned longtime Senate leader Dominic Pilleggi (who may be plotting revenge) to take a harder ideological stance against Democrats.  The outlook for Wolf isn’t good under these circumstances and he faces a $2.3 billion state budget deficit left over from Tom Corbett’s failed administration.

Something has to get done and the way it does will set the tone for Tom Wolf’s success or failure.  A dramatic success might lead him on a path to higher office.  

Gasbag Signs Smoke and Mirrors Budget

Gov. Corbett finally singed the budget pushed through by Republican majorities in the House and Senate though he showed his innate ability to tick off his own Party members by using his line item veto generously.  Gov. Gasbag cut funding for the legislature as a message that he wasn’t happy they hadn’t gutted state worker and teacher pensions.

When conservatives use the word “reform” they actually mean “eliminate.”  That’s what pension reform does and the Guv’s plan actually would have cost taxpayers more in the long run while gutting the retirements of thousands of Pennsylvanians.  These pensions were negotiated in good faith by unions in lieu of higher wages.  The Commonwealth refused to adequately fund them (as required by law) until it has become a crisis situation.  Corbett’s solution was to simply screw these workers.  A new 401(K) system would just result in higher salaries and other benefits for school districts as teachers sought to recoup these lost wages.  Meanwhile the current system would still have to be funded, somehow, along with the new one.  That would wind up costing more than if we simply funded the current pensions as required by the contracts to which we agreed.

The Governor gave the finger (literally and proverbially) to the State House and Senate by cutting its budget significantly.  No need to worry though since they’re sitting on over $150 million in unused prior appropriations.  Heaven help the House and Senate have to do what every other state agency has had to since 2008:  do more with less.

Other items cut in the line item veto gut funding for state parks, medical assistance, lobbying disclosure, gun checks and other important functions of state government.

This is already a smoke and mirrors budget because it depends on one time sources of income which won’t exist.  The Pennsylvania constitution requires a balanced budget but we didn’t have one this year.  Because of Corbett’s vast mismanagement of the state economy, at a time when the national economy is doing well, has resulted in significantly decreased revenues.  He cut corporate taxes and refused to close loopholes.  Jobs aren’t being created and we’re losing hundreds of millions in potential tax revenues of natural gas extraction.  We still don’t tax smokeless tobacco for instance.

This is not a balanced budget because the state liquor store system is not going to be privatized. Corbett didn’t have the votes for that in this session or last and he certainly won’t get any cooperation from the House and Senate after cutting their own budgets.  This clueless blonde has never learned from his mistakes and refuses to develop any relations with the state legislature even though it is controlled by his own Party.  In a way we’re fortunate he’s so incompetent because a lot of potential damage to the citizenry was avoided due to his incompetence.

Education Advocates Continue Capitol Sit In

Public schools in Pennsylvania have lost over $2.5 billion in revenues since Tom Corbett became Governor.  A billion of this was due to his budget cuts and another $1.5 billion has been lost to charter schools.  Charter schools do not have any oversight, regulation or state controls.  Several charter school owners are under investigation or indictment for fraud and embezzelment and charter school students do not have to take PSSA tests.  Teachers don’t have to be certified and cyber charter schools which have drastically lower costs get the same amount of funding per student as brick and mortar public schools are suffocating our public education system.

Education advocates are fed up and have been conducting a sit-in at the Capitol since last week.  Over the weekend they were on the steps out front while the building was closed.  House Republicans have passed a smoke and mirrors budget which isn’t balanced because it relies on revenues which won’t exist.  The Governor is holding public school students and teachers hostage to his demands that the budget gut teacher pensions.

Pensions have been a negotiated part of teacher compensation plans and school districts have contracted to pay these in lieu of higher wages.  Remember that teachers are substantially underpaid for college graduates (and many have advanced degrees).  These fixed rate pensions have offset some of that wage gap.  The state has neglected to fund these pensions for years and now that the piper is come calling the Governor’s solution is to cheat these public service sector workers.  Worse, his solution will only cause higher pension costs down the road. To fund two separate pension systems at once and having to eventually pay vast amounts to the old system as new teachers stop paying into it will be disastrous for future budgets.

The same for Corbett’s demand to privatize the state store system.. In return for a one time infusion of cash (which would be far lower than he projects) the state will then lose half a billion dollars every year thereafter.  That is the profit these stores earn for us annually and which goes straight into the general fund.  That lost half billion will only make future budgets harder to balance and force tax increases.  This is especially tough for those of us who don’t drink.  Why should I pay higher taxes rather than have those who do drink contribute profits voluntarily?

Neither idea has the votes to pass the legislature so the Governor is trying to force them through.  His bad economic management has resulted in sharply reduced tax revenues already, for cing this $1.5 billion hole in this year’s budget.  Interestingly that corresponds directly tot he $1.5 billion in corporate tax cuts he gave out supposedly to create jobs.  This Republican myth that tax cuts create jobs is outright stupid.  All date shows the opposite.  In Corbett’s case his tax cuts for business have resulted in Pennsylvania sinking to 49th in the nation in job creation since he took office.

Let’s balance the budget the easy way:  repeal those tax cuts, add an extraction tax on natural gas to fund education and let’s restore services for the disabled by taxing smokeless tobacco and e cigarettes and ending the 1% of sales tax business get to keep.  In this day of electronic bookkeeping and electronic funds transfers businesses don’t have expenses related to remitting sales taxes.  Closing the Delaware Loophole too would make the state flush.

These education advocates sitting in are getting attention but can they stop this ridiculous budget from going through?  We’ll see but meanwhile think seriously about whom you’ll vote for this November.  Governor Wolf also needs a good legislature with which to work for the next four years so we can right this ship before it sinks.  

News & Notes June 25, 2014

Pennsylvania isn’t doing our part in preserving the Chesapeake Bay.  This vast estuary is a favorite for many in south central PA.  So much so the locals in northern Maryland refer to them as the “Pennsylvania Navy” coming down every weekend.  Now Sen. Toomey along with four Members of the PA Congressional delegation (including Rep. Scott Perry from the south central region) have signed on to a protest of new restrictions on pollution.  How shameful.

Tom Corbett is so disliked he can’t even congratulate Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins without getting booed.

In the “not exactly a news flash” segment natural gas money is pouring into Gov. Gasbag’s re-election campaign.  Of course that’s why I nicknamed him that four years ago.

Fortunately there is one man willing to balance those scales a bit.

In other fracking news retired state Health Department workers claim the Corbett Administration silenced them about the health dangers of fracking.

“There was a list of buzzwords we had gotten,” Stuck said. “There were some obvious ones like fracking, gas, soil contamination. There were probably 15 to 20 words and short phrases that were on this list. If anybody from the public called in and that was part of the conversation, we were not allowed to talk to them.”

In yet more bad news for Corbett the Kane investigation into his management (as AG) of the Sandusky investigation revealed total incompetence.  Because the Attorney General’s office essentially sat on the investigation for a couple of years more boys were molested.  A search warrant after the first complaint was filed and police began investigating the former coach would have revealed the extent of his behavior.  Though it was concluded that no evidence of political calculations were involved in the delays it was political because the delays were caused by his overtly political prosecutions of BonusGate.

I’m not saying those who used state resources for political efforts shouldn’t have been prosecuted, they should have, but the manner in which Tom Corbett did it was very political.

President Obama finally took steps against Uganda for human rights violations against LGBT persons.  Certain Ugandan leaders are now barred from entering the U.S. and:

The Obama administration will also discontinue or redirect funds for programs with the Ugandan Police Force, the Ugandan Ministry of Health and National Public Health Institute. The White House also cancelled an American-sponsored “aviation exercise” in the East African country. –  

Sen. Toomey was also targeted by members of Keystone Progress recently:

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran beat his Tea Party challenger in a run off election yesterday.

The United Methodist Church reinstated the credentials of Pastor Frank Schaeffer of Lebanon.  The Appeals Court over ruled the trial outcome following Schaeffer’s officiating at his son’t gay marriage ceremony.

In other gay news Allegheny County has adjusted its benefits policy to cover same sex partners and spouses.

Isn’t it interesting that almost all actual voter fraud is perpetrated by Republicans?  22 states have now restricted voting rights, mostly for Democratic voters, based on claims of widespread voter fraud.  Perhaps Wisconsin Gov. Scott walker should explain how his supporters cheated in his recall election.

News and Notes June 23. 2014

PA Dems re=elected Jim Burn to a four year term as Chair Saturday.  I’ve lost all respect for the man after he refused to step aside for Gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf’s choice.  Much as I dislike Katie McGinty and all the energy money she takes she was his choice to lead the Party in November’s general election, a privilege most Governor candidates get to make.  I went kayaking instead of going to Camp Hill.  I’m sick and tired of being kicked out of Democratic Party “open” meetings while to give them coverage and get stories.  It’s a waste of my time and money.

I’ve written about Social Security for years, always pointing out that it has nothing to do with the deficit.  In fact the federal government owes Social Security trillions of dollars, not the other way around.  Regardless Republicans have cut its budget to the extent that they’re being forced to close offices.  Now many seniors will have to drive (if they can) longer distances to obtain benefits they’ve paid for over many years.

President Obama issued an Executive Order last week providing employment discrimination against LGBT persons by any federal contractor.  Kudos.

Now we have to pass an ENDA bill nationally and here in Pennsylvania.  No person should be evicted or refused service at a business due to their real or perceived sexual orientation.  From the ACLU:

House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300 would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression.”

“Even after the historic achievement of marriage equality in Pennsylvania, the struggle for full equality is far from over,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “When Pennsylvanians go to work, they expect to be judged based on their performance.

“But LGBT workers in the commonwealth can still be fired simply for who they are. It is past time to pass this bill and bring a greater level of fairness in the workplace, in housing, and in public services.”

The PHRA prohibits discrimination in employment, in housing, and in “public accommodations,” such as restaurants and hotels. Seventeen states include legal protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination laws, and four additional states include protections based on sexual orientation. In Pennsylvania, 34 municipalities have similar ordinances.

The legislation was introduced this legislative session with a record number of co-sponsors from both parties, with 96 co-sponsors in the state House and 25 in the state Senate. Meanwhile, polling again shows more than 70 percent of Pennsylvanians support this type of legal protection.

“The people of the commonwealth support fairness in daily life,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The public is leading the way for lawmakers on this issue.”

HB 300 is currently in the House State Government Committee. SB 300 is in the Senate State Government Committee.

According to HHS the Affordable Care Act has saved 15,000 lives and $4 billion in health care spending:

The Department of Health and Human Services announced that new preliminary data show an overall nine percent decrease in hospital acquired conditions nationally during 2011 and 2012.  National reductions in adverse drug events, falls, infections, and other forms of hospital-induced harm are estimated to have prevented nearly 15,000 deaths in hospitals, avoided 560,000 patient injuries, and approximately $4 billion in health spending over the same period.

The Affordable Care Act is also helping reduce hospital readmissions.  After holding constant at 19 percent from 2007 to 2011 and decreasing to 18.5 percent in 2012, the Medicare all-cause 30-day readmission rate has further decreased to approximately 17.5 percent in 2013.  This translates into an 8 percent reduction in the rate and an estimated 150,000 fewer hospital readmissions among Medicare beneficiaries between January 2012 and December 2013.

These improvements reflect policies and an unprecedented public-private collaboration made possible by the Affordable Care Act.  The data demonstrates that hospitals and providers across the country are achieving reductions in hospital-induced harm experienced by patients.  These major strides in patient safety are a result of strong, diverse public-private partnerships and active engagement by patients and families, including efforts from the federal Partnership for Patients initiative and Hospital Engagement Networks, Quality Improvement Organizations, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Administration on Community Living, the Indian Health Service, and many others.

 

I don’t understand how some folks who call themselves “pro life” can oppose laws which actually save lives.

The White House is hosting a summit today on working families.  Opening remarks this morning were from Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden.  Other participants include SEIU, Claudia Goldin, Economics Professor at Harvard, the Center For American Progress, Rep. Martha Edwards of Maryland, Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez and closing remarks from the First Lady and Robin Roberts of ABC’s Good Morning America.

Meet The Press simply isn’t  the show it used to be since David Gregory took over.  I won’t even watch it any more.  Sunday he allowed Sen. Paul to repeat debunked lies about Benghazi without challenge.  Shameful journalism.

A scientific study confirms that liberals and atheists are smarter.  I suppose this explains why conservatives don’t believe in science.

The study, published in the March 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Social Psychology Quarterly, advances a new theory to explain why people form particular preferences and values.  The theory suggests that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years.”

“Evolutionarily novel” preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess.  In contrast, those that our ancestors had for millions of years are “evolutionarily familiar.”

Gov. Corbett says an on time state budget isn’t likely to pass by June 30th.  For someone who has ballyhooed the fact he has passed a budget on time every year this is but one more black eye for the vulnerable sitting Governor.  I love the fact he spent $3 million in campaign ads this spring and moved his approval number all the way from 29% to 30%.  Interestingly the Guv has given $1.5 billion in corporate tax breaks intended to create jobs.  Our current fiscal deficit is $1.4 billion.  His tax breaks haven’t created any jobs.  We rank 49th in the country in job creation so they obviously aren’t working.  Instead of making the state budget worse by privatizing the Wine and Spirit Stores and gutting pensions let’s simply repeal those tax cuts.

Meanwhile the Republican Governors Association made an illegal million dollar contribution towards Gov. gasbag’s re-election in violation of Pennsylvania election law.  Sheldon Adelson gave the money despite the fact he owns the Sands Casino in Bethlehem.  Casino owners are barred from making political contributions in Pennsylvania.

Radiation from Fukushima continues polluting the Pacific Rim.  Tuna being caught are so radioactive they cannot be consumed.

Surprise, surprise, we’re listed as the fifth most corrupt state.

Corbett Is Denying Veterans Health Care Under ACA

Gov. Gasbag’s refusal to adopt Medicaid Expansion under the ACA is denying Pennsylvania veterans with needed health care.  An estimated 500-600,000 residents of our Commonwealth could be covered if the Governor accepted the federal funds for two years to fully fund the expansion.  This Memorial Day we should focus on how conservative ideology is costing people their lives.

We’ve already see the awful effects of sequestration cuts on the VA and how that agency is failing veterans.  Republicans and many Democrats were all too eager to go to war over lies they knew to be so but then refused to allocate the funds to properly treat our wounded and ill veterans.  One solution was to expand Medicaid for those vets too poor to pay for their own insurance.  Gov. Corbett continues to have the authority to do so but refuses because his ideology is in the way.  That’s peculiar for someone who professes to be “pro life.”

Tom Wolf Versus Tom Corbett in November

Tom Wolf cruised to an easy victory today in the Democratic primary for Governor.  With incumbent Tom Corbett seeing the lowest approval ratings of any Governor in the nation this appears that Mr. Wolf of York will be the Commonwealth’s next Chief Executive.  He began a run for Governor four years ago then withdrew in order to save the family firm as the recession hit it hard.  He bought The Wolf Organization back and expanded it into kitchen cabinets.  He found skilled Amish craftsmen in Indiana to manufacture them and coupled them with the established line of high end stoves and ranges which made Wold famous.

Pouring $10 million of his own and borrowed funds he went on TV early and often and quickly buried his team of rivals.  Getting well over %0% in a four way race is impressive.

State Sen. Mike Stack has a wide lead in the race to share the ticket with Wolf.  Rep. Brendan Boyle has been declared the winner of the 13th CD race.  I’m deeply disappointed that Sen. Daylin Leach ran poorly in this election but the fact he lives outside the District (even if it’s only across the street) probably hurt his chances.  53% of the 13th lies in Northeast Philly, Boyle’s home turf.

Wolf Woos Them In Allentown

With a week left in the 2014 Gubernatorial primary races it appears the fall campaign will pit incumbent, embattled Gov. Tom Corbett versus Tom Wolf.  Polls have shown the York businessman with a commanding lead for months.  I chatted briefly with him Friday night at an event in Allentown and he said their internal polling has him over 40%.  I asked how he thought the undecideds would break out and he said their polling also shows that most of these people aren’t off year primary voters so he doesn’t feel they’ll affect the race.

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That’s interesting because he means he’s likely to go over 50% in a four way race, three if you discount Katie McGinty who is polling just 2%.  Allyson Schwartz ran a pitiful race in which she barely left southeastern Pennsylvania and was last to be on television.  By the time she woke up and started serious campaigning the race was over.  Rob McCord’s ads are backfiring tremendously and are actually hurting him more than they’re hurting Wolf.  The Wolf campaign has deftly and effectively countered all of the attacks against them.  McCord appears to be a desperate candidate making desperate claims in an attempt to win at the close of the race.   It isn’t working.

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On the GOP side Corbett, recognized as the most vulnerable Governor in the country, will soundly defeat challenger Bob Guzzardi.  His ads are extremely fact challenged and I expect the Wolf team to dissect them once Labor Day rolls around.  Corbett cannot escape some simple facts:  $2.5 billion has been siphoned or cut from K12 public education and the state ranks near the bottom in job creation under his leadership.  He claims to have created 150,000 private sector jobs but neglects to mention the 20,000 teachers he threw out of work and the fact those job numbers lag behind almost every other state.  His inability to work even with members of his own Party in the House and Senate, his infamous “just close your eyes” statement on mandatory ultrasounds and other famous quotes will all come back to haunt him in the fall.  He is Dead Governor Walking.

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Lt. Governor Debate

Six candidates for Lt. Governor debated Saturday at the 2014 Pennsylvania Progressive Summit.  There was little public disagreement except on the issue of fracking.  Brenda Alton and Brad Koplinski were vocal in their opposition and Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith was out of his element in his strong support of the practice.  Bradford County is on the state’s Northern Tier and is the most drilled county in the Commonwealth.  Alton was very good n the issues but no one knows who she is and she has no traction in the race.  She acknowledged there are some economic benefits but asked “At what cost?” which is the heart of the issue.  Koplinski mentioned New York’s moratorium then cited Pennsylvania’s many mistakes and said perhaps New York is waiting to learn from how we are screwing it all up.

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Brad Koplinski

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Jay Paterno

Jay Paterno, a recent entry into the race showed up and was very knowledgeable on the issues.  I didn’t agree with everything he said but he surprised me with his breadth of information.  State Sen. Mike Stack was impressive though he did mis speak about spending more on prisons than education.  We’re spending more on prisons than we are on HIGHER education, not education in total.  The straw poll came out with Koplinski on top with 59.7%, Mike Stack at 22.7%, Brenda Alton 10.4%, Mark Critz 4.5%, Mark Smith with a paltry 1.3% and Jay Paterno 0.6%.

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Sen. Mike Stack

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Mark Smith

Here’s a chunk of the debate before my battery ran out:

The Summit Debate

Six Democratic candidates for Governor debated last evening at the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit here in Harrisburg.  Jack Wagner jumped into the race too late to participate.  Jo Ellen Litz’s comments about growing up in a hunting family and eating wild game resulted in many squirrel jokes in the lobby afterwards.  And here I thought she only ate chocolate!  There was no mention from the other candidates about her anti-choice positions.  No one went after Katie McGinty for her close ties to fracking either.  All in all it was a rather collegial discussion more than a debate.  Most of these candidates obviously like one another.

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Jo Ellen Litz

Following a question on fracking (they don’t support the official Democratic Party position for a complete moratorium) a large group stood up in the center of the ballroom holding signs saying “Ban Fracking Now.”

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Rob McCord

John Hanger was clearly the most liberal candidate repeatedly saying he’d legalize marijuana to raise revenues and save costs.  McGinty turned the common sense gun safety issue (I loved everyone using a term I coined) into a discussion of her renewable energy record as DEP Secretary.   She appeared to be a one trick pony.

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Katie McGinty

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John Hanger

Wolf was also clearly progressive and McCord raised some eyebrows when he mentioned pragmatism instead of progressivism at one point.

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Tom Wolf

I spent the day at a campaign field training seminar put on by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (more on that later) so by the time the debate began both my video camera and iPhone batteries were low.  I did manage to capture a considerable amount of video.  I expect to see a lot of Allyson Schwartz’s comments about running a women’s health clinic this fall if she is the nominee.

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Allyson Schwartz

Update:  John Hanger won the straw poll at 31.5% and the others as follows:  McCord 24%, Wolf 22.8%, McGinty 10.9%, Schwartz 9.4%, Litz 0.4% and Jack Wagner 0.1%.  None of the above received 0.7%.  Allyson Schwartz hasn’t attended either of these Summits since she announced except for appearing at this debate.  Only Hanger and McCord attended the Keystone Progress fund raiser following the debate and that was noticed by many of those in attendance.

The room was packed and, all in all, the debate was a two hour live show on PCN showcasing progressive issues and values.  In that regard I thought it a huge success.