The list of potential candidates for the Lieutenant Governor slot in the 2014 Democratic Primary seems to grow by the day. Potential—but not yet announced—candidates include Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, former Congressman Chris Carney, State Senator Daylin Leach, and State Representative Brandon Neumann.
As far as announced candidates go, we have City Councilman Brad Koplinski and Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith.
Although a crowded primary can be detrimental to general election chances, crowded primaries ensure that policy debates will occur more frequently, and delve deeper into details. The issues start to become more salient, assuming relatively even fundraising (a big assumption).
One such issue that will receive a great deal of attention in 2014 is Marcellus Shale—its regulation, capture, and potential for job creation.
The Marcellus Shale issue is of especially high importance in the Lieutenant Governor’s race given that the current Lietenant Governor, Jim Cawley, chaired the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.
Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith talks a big game on Marcellus Shale regulation.
In his campaign announcement, he accused the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection of failing “to properly engage with county and local leaders on the oversight and regulation of the natural gas industry.”
Here’s an excerpt from Smith’s announcement speech, via The Daily Review:
“There is no doubt that we need the energy and the economic development (Marcellus gas drilling) has brought to rural Pennsylvania,” Smith said in his speech. “However, we must approach the protection of our environment and public health with absolute vigilance. There is no compromise to be found between gas development and environmental safety. We cannot have one without the other.”
Smith also supports a tax on natural gas.
Yet, Shaleshock Media has pointed out a few serious concerns, namely Smith’s spotty history on Marcellus Shale issues and the fact that his soon-to-be-wife works for Chesapeake Energy.
Digging deeper, however, it is clear that Smith is as pro-drilling a Democrat as they come.
Also in Bradford County, the PA DEP fined Chesapeake $250,000 for a blow-out and again when Chesapeake allowed sediment to enter Sugar Creek in North Towanda, Bradford County.
Chesapeake then agreed to pay $1.6 million in damages to three families who signed leases with Chesapeake Appalachia to drill beneath their land in Wyalusing, Bradford County.
Smith never asked for a moratorium or to halt the drilling, even with the massive adverse impact in the County he represents, while his GOP colleagues said that the drilling should slow down.
If you want to protect the environment, and you represent a battleground county, you have to do something visible and meaningful about it.
Then there’s the issue of Smith’s impending nuptials.
Smith’s fiancée Jane Clements became the Manager for Corporate Development/Community Relations for Chesapeake Energy in June 2012.
Clements “works within Chesapeake’s operating areas to share and inform members of those communities about how the company drills and operates safely.”
Here’s Chesapeake’s YouTube video of Clements, where Clements explains that Chesapeake drills safely and “wouldn’t be in it if it was going to destroy the beauty here.”
While no one would get in the way of true love or criticize star-crossed lovers, it does not look good that Smith is marrying the spokesperson of the company that is slowly destroying his county.
If he wants to be a viable candidate in the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor, Mark Smith needs to release a lengthy, detailed policy paper outlining his views on Marcellus Shale and explaining the specific actions he would take to protect Pennsylvanians.
Democrats deserve a great deal of clarification on this matter.
UPDATE: Mark Smith sent Keystone Politics a detailed response, which we published in full here.
Note: Watch for how PoliticsPA reacts to the Marcellus Shale issue in the coming elections. The PR firm of their owner, Larry Ceisler, lists Chesapeake Energy as a client.