King Smucker

Democrat Jess King and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker participated in a public forum at Garden Spot High School on Oct. 29, 2018.

Democratic congressional hopeful Jess King said in a public forum Monday that U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker was trying to stoke fear and “tell lies just to get elected” while the incumbent defended his controversial television ads and called her criticisms “naive at best.”

The forum, designed for high school students from across Lancaster County to engage with the 11th Congressional District candidates, touched on a range of issues while diverting multiple times to the latest attack ads.

“This is part of the problem in the political moment. Congressman Smucker knows that I’m not for legalizing heroin,” King said, referring to Smucker’s ad that claims a progressive group that endorsed her supports legalizing all drugs. “Like, you know me and you know my character. The fact that that is something that he OK’d to put on TV — I truly don’t understand it.”

Smucker defended his ad, accurately saying the website for the national group, Justice Democrats, previously stated its platform was for “legalization and regulation” of drugs.

Smucker did not say, however, that the website never specifically mentioned legalizing heroin — or that the website has since changed to specify the platform is about legalizing marijuana. A Justice Democrats’ spokesperson also told LNP last week that it was “laughable to suggest” they want to legalize heroin.

“What I don’t understand is why you would specifically fill out the questionnaire and ask for the endorsement of the group that you do not agree with,” Smucker maintained.

The back-and-forth was the most heated moment of the candidates’ second public debate this month. (Watch a replay of the event below.)

They will meet for a third time at a forum Tuesday night in Wrightsville.

Monday’s event was part of the first-ever Democracy Day hosted by LNP Media Group and the Lancaster Chamber at Garden Spot High School. After a morning session where students from 26 public, private and parochial high schools gathered to develop questions, seven students were selected to pose them on stage to the candidates.

Smucker, a West Lampeter Township Republican, is seeking a second term on Nov. 6. King, a Lancaster Democrat, is an economic development nonprofit director running for office for the first time.

The discussion focused on everything from immigration and election security to school safety and agriculture as the students posed their questions.

‘Fear-based politics’?

In the ongoing discussion of the ad, King also called it “patently false” to claim she supports “open borders” and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — which the ad does with a dramatic voiceover and flashes of black-and-white images of tattooed men and drug paraphernalia.

“I would like you to not stoke fear in the way that you are,” King said. “I mean, honestly, we look at the conditions of this country right now and you can argue what happened in Pittsburgh was a result of our fear-based politics. We have to stop. And to talk about facts. That’s my request of you. To stop throwing on labels and to actually talk about what’s actually real in this moment. So I don't support open borders. I never said I’m in support of abolishing ICE.”

Smucker responded, “To say that I’m stoking fear when I’m talking about individuals who want to come into the country to harm us is naive at best. We know what happened on 9/11. We know that ISIS is out to destroy us. We now that terrorists from other countries are out to harm American citizens and as I said one of the top roles of the federal government is to ensure we can all feel safe.”

On the issues

Responding to the students’ issue-based questions, the candidates revealed their divisions.

Smucker said school safety efforts should focus on identifying mental health problems and at-risk students early. King talked about mental health care but first mentioned comprehensive gun background check reform and banning weapons like bump stocks.

On the job market and education, Smucker said more resources should be available for high school students to know about college majors and the availability of jobs, many of which don’t need four-year degrees. King spoke about her support for debt-free public colleges by investing in public higher education.

On actual immigration reform, King spoke mostly about the importance of resettling refugees — an effort that the Trump administration has significantly scaled back. Smucker said securing the border should come first, and then lawmakers can talk about legal immigration like securing a permanent legal status for young immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Asked what they’d propose as a 28th constitutional amendment, Smucker said it should be one to balance the federal budget. King picked campaign finance reform to lessen the influence of “special interests” in Washington.

And, at the end, answering a question about the polarized nature of “entrenched party politics,” Smucker talked about having respect for the opposing party while King said the conversation should focus on bipartisan solutions.

Moments later, they were arguing again over Smucker’s latest ad.