Senate Pro Tempore Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland and Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia. (Capital-Star composite photo)
Despite the often heated debates about legislation between the GOP-led state Senate and the Democratic-led House over the past year, the two women who lead the chambers say their working relationship is as strong as ever.
Nearly 24 hours after Pennsylvania’s lawmakers finalized the state budget, state Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) and House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) participated in a moderated Q&A at the 39th annual Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry dinner.
“Let’s be clear here,” McClinton said. “There has never been a loss of trust between Kim and I.”
McClinton said their long relationship, which predates their leadership roles by many years, has been beneficial in helping them govern and deliver legislative wins for Pennsylvania.
Owens followed up asking if the “breaking of trust was among the male people” at the table.
“What do you think?” Ward responded, which resulted in some laughter from the audience.
“I do think that we are working to restore trust with the governor,” Ward said. “You know, I had talked with him about an issue. He told me he would do it, and he did it.”
“So that goes a long way for me in restoring some trust,” Ward added, without saying what issue she was specifically referring to.
Owens joked that the Chamber Dinner is usually held in October, noting that “budgets are typically done in June.”
Although the budget wasn’t finalized until Wednesday, McClinton disagreed with the notion that both chambers weren’t working together until now, arguing that she and Ward have stood together more this year than when both were caucus leaders.
McClinton pointed to the breast cancer screening bill that passed the legislature and Shapiro signed into law in the spring, as an example.
“This is what you get when you have two women that work together well,” said Ward, a breast cancer survivor.
On the topic of the budget, McClinton said the legislature “got some great bipartisan legislative wins” in it, while Ward discussed the divided legislature, saying it had to be a middle of the road product. She touted the childcare tax credit that passed.
Both McClinton and Ward agreed that Pennsylvania needs to be competitive to attract and keep businesses in the state, so they can plant roots in the Keystone State.
Ward said that Pennsylvania’s “business climate needs to change” and argued that reforming the tax structure is one way to bring young people back to the state. McClinton said that Pennsylvania has to keep “everything competitive, not only our business climate,” adding that families are looking to raise a family in areas where there are good public schools.
When asked about school vouchers, McClinton quoted House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) saying Democrats have a “humble” one-seat majority in the House and said that “every issue is open for discussion” next year.
During a lightning round of questions, McClinton and Ward were asked if they’d seek higher office. Pennsylvania has never had a woman elected U.S. Senator or Governor.
McClinton said she already considers herself in “higher office,” while Ward said she wouldn’t run for another office, but boosted the prospect of McClinton’s political future.
“Can I say something about Joanna? She is young. She is a leader. She’s kind and she has all those things I just spoke about and she, being that she is so young, she could go on and be a U.S. senator, a president. She has opportunity,” Ward said, which was followed by applause from the crowd.
Shapiro did not appear at the dinner in person, but delivered a 5-minute pre-recorded message to the dinner, making the case that his administration is delivering on his promise of making Pennsylvania a leader in innovation, job creation, and economic development.
“We are getting stuff done and we are showing that Pennsylvania is open for business,” Shapiro said.
Owens quipped about Shapiro’s potential future presidential aspirations, saying the section of I-95 in Northeast Philadelphia that collapsed earlier this year and was reopened in 12 days “unofficially, in the Shapiro household it is the Washington, D.C. expressway.”
Presidential hopefuls have frequently appeared at the PA Chamber of Business and Industry’s annual dinner in previous years: former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former President George W. Bush have all made appearances at the annual gathering.
Shapiro added that his administration will unveil its new strategic plan for economic development in a few weeks, reiterating that it has been three decades since Pennsylvania had one.
Luke Bernstein, president and CEO of the PA Chamber of Business and Industry, said that more than 120 members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate were present at the dinner. Bernstein delivered remarks at the beginning of the program, calling on the Legislature to update the state’s “out of date, antiquated, permitting process,” and address workforce priorities.
“These are not Republican issues. These are not Democrat issues,” Bernstein said. “These are Pennsylvania issues.”
The evening also included appearances from two well-known Pennsylvania natives. Actor Bradley Cooper, was the keystone speaker, while Gabby Barrett, a country music artist, provided a musical performance.
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