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Democratic Candidates For Lt. Gov. Make Their Pitches

The Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor sit fairly high on the ballot, right below those for governor. But for all the attention they get, you'd think they're at the bottom of the ticket.

One of the benefits of the relative anonymity of the lieutenant governor is that all five Democratic candidates have different ideas of what the position should entail.

Take Brandon Neuman, a Washington County state House member of three years. He recently announced the backing of dozens of House Democrats, including the caucus leaders. At a candidates' forum on WITF's Smart Talk, he spoke about the job as a governor-in-waiting position.

"The things I've done in a bipartisan fashion can only help in a situation where I need to step in as governor," said Neuman.

It's true that the lieutenant governor take over if a governor is incapacitated, as Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley did for about an hour and a half a few months ago when Gov. Tom Corbett was undergoing hernia surgery.

But the job has actual duties, besides just substituting for the governor. Candidate Brad Koplinski, a Harrisburg city councilman, gets amped about chairing the Local Government Advisory Commission.

"Nobody's ever heard of it, nobody knows what it does, but I want to turn it into the conduit to build a better relationship with our municipalities, our boroughs, our towns, and our small and medium cities, which no one's listening to," Koplinski said. He's spent his career working in state and federal bureaucracies - experience he said he would apply to other responsibilities of the lieutenant governor, like chairing the state's Board of Pardons.

"We've got a huge problem in the Board of Pardons in that there's a three-year backlog from when you make an application to full consideration," Koplinski said, adding that he'd like to streamline the process.

Mark Smith, a second-term Bradford County commissioner serving in Marcellus Shale country, envisions helping to balance environmental issues with natural gas industry development.

"Being the number drilled-in county in the state, we've got a lot of issues, the positives and the negatives," Smith said. "It's always been a really tough balance for me as a person who wants to protect our environment but also wants to see job growth in Pennsylvania."

Mark Critz, a former congressman from Johnstown, sees the job in tactical terms: a way to boost western support for whoever wins the Democratic nomination for governor, since all the candidates are from the eastern half of the state.

"From Western Pennsylvania, I can help bring out a vote to help a Democrat win in November, and that has to be our focus and our goal," said Critz. "Think about why Jack Kennedy, the Kennedys, picked Lyndon Johnson to be their running mate. It's because he brought geographic balance. He brought a different demographic. He brought more Democrats to the table to win in November."

Of course, to Mike Stack, a Philadelphia state senator since 2001, it's all about not being someone's lackey.

"A lieutenant governor should stand up for everything that they believe in, and I don't really believe that your number one mission is to carry out the agenda of the governor," said Stack, also a mid-career enlisted member of the Pennsylvania National Guard and a member of the Screen Actors' Guild.

The winner in the Democratic primary will face sitting Republican Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley in the fall.

A recent poll finds Stack is narrowly edging out Critz by just two points in a survey with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.14 percentage points. PoliticsPA has reported that Critz has canceled a television ad buy of more than $182,000 targeting Pittsburgh voters.