About halfway into last night’s Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial primary debate at Drexel University, a protester jumped on stage to criticize the four candidates — Rob McCord, Kathleen McGinty, Allyson Schwartz, and Tom Wolf — for failing to support a moratorium on fracking, the controversial mining technique.
The protester was Liz Arnold, who has been working with Pennsylvania Voters Against Fracking. The group held a rally against the process outside the gubernatorial debate at Drexel — but were rebuffed from entering the debate, says Food & Water Watch Fund Senior Pennsylvania organizer Sam Bernhardt. FWW Fund is the political arm of the D.C.-based Food & Water Watch, and is coordinating Pennsylvania Voters Against Fracking’s advocacy this election season. The group supports a moratorium on fracking in the state.
Bernhardt says the decision to interrupt the debate was not the first step, noting they began by hand-delivering reasons to support a moratorium on fracking to the candidates and eventually progressed to holding up signs during a debate earlier this year. The group attended about 10 candidate forums and debates and 10 individual candidate rallies this year, Bernhardt said. He said the group would liked to have jumped in on a question about fracking, but "we knew that fracking itself was probably not going to be asked [about] during the debate."
"We hadn’t done anything as bold or disruptive as what Liz did last night," Bernhardt said. "We felt it was time to do something that bold because the candidates clearly haven’t been hearing our message. We weren’t expecting that, knowing the party leadership on both the statewide level and the city level has tried to sweep this issue under the rug, we weren’t expecting that we would get a question specifically along those lines."
Arnold actually did a fantastic job sliding in. She jumped on stage as Schwartz responded to a question from Daily News columnist John Baer over her criticism of Tom Wolf's "failed leadership." The protester opens with, "The candidates all fail the leadership test!" As the crowd booed and moderator Larry Kane asked for someone to "please come up," the protester noted that Pennsylvania's Democratic party supports a ban on fracking and waved a list of 1,700 state landowners who say they've been affected by fracking. After a diversion to school funding, as she was escorted off stage she said fracking is "poisoning our state and ruining our chance for a strong economic future."
"We didn’t want to be perceived just as disruptors, we wanted to be perceived as responders," Bernhardt said. "Fracking has been talked about during debates pretty frequently — just not on the terms that we think it deserves to be talked about." At the debates, candidates have primarily talked about of their support of a continued moratorium on fracking in the Delaware River Basin, and of the taxes that should be applied to fracking (slang for induced hydraulic fracturing).
After Arnold was taken off the stage — and someone near a microphone let out a fantastic laugh — Pennsylvania "fracktivist" Craig Stevens begins to speak before being booed down by the crowd.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to continue this debate," moderator Larry Kane then says. "Free expression is one thing, inappropriate behavior is another."
Schwartz says she appreciates the strong feelings the protesters had toward fracking and the health concerns over the process. Kane then tells her she's almost out of time, and she goes on to answer the much less interesting question about "leadership" and whether she'll support Tom Wolf in the general election if he is to win the primary.