Since announcing his campaign for Governor, former DEP Secretary John Hanger has made four stops in Cumberland County. And each time, the crowd has been a little larger than the last.
His most recent visit was no exception. On Wednesday night, Hanger spoke to a crowd of about thirty-five students at Dickinson College about education policy and marijuana reform. The event, which was sponsored by the Dickinson College Democrats and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, was more classroom than campaign stop.
Hanger’s campaign motto has long been “policy first, politics second,” and that credo was on full display at the event. Hanger spoke at length about education policy and his marijuana reform plan, and answered student questions for almost half an hour after his thirty minute lecture.
Hanger began his education policy discussion by talking about why public education was so important to him, explaining that he “got off a plane from Ireland as a 12 year old boy, and right into the public schools.”
“Public schools taught me what America means,” Hanger added.
According to Hanger, “the public schools in Pennsylvania are under relentless attack.” The reason, Hanger explained, is because of severe funding cuts and the failure of many charter schools, which Hanger said are paid for by local taxpayers and “getting money whether or not they succeed.”
“In Pennsylvania, [a charter school] can be raided by the FBI, your founder can be indicted, and you can still keep your charter,” Hanger said.
Cyber charter schools, according to Hanger, have an even worse record than regular charter schools. Hanger said that Pennsylvania has 16 cyber charter schools, which all have terrible reading and math scores, and they keep getting taxpayer money.
“I’m the only Democrat who’s being explicit about this,” Hanger said. “I am absolutely determined to make judgments about which charters are failing.”
Hanger began his discussion of marijuana reform by explaining that the subject is but one prong of his “new birth of freedom” campaign platform, the title of which Hanger got from the Gettysburg Address. According to Hanger, Democrats have failed to campaign on the values of personal liberty, and have “given the word [liberty] over to the Republicans.”
Hanger’s “new birth of freedom” platform tries to take back liberty for liberals by framing the core Democratic issues through the lens of personal freedom. As examples, Hanger cited his pro-choice views, his strong stance on marriage equality, and marijuana reform.
Hanger’s marijuana reform plan is based on moral convictions.
“It is cruel, even barbaric, to deny a sick patient medicine of any sort, including cannabis, when they need it,” Hanger said. “It will only change if I’m elected. It is one of the things I will do immediately.”
Hanger said that he would also decriminalize marijuana, saying that “the criminalization of marijuana is a disaster” because “it is destroying lives, costing taxpayers huge amounts of money, and doing no good in return for the damage it causes.”
“If decriminalization goes well, I’d like to do exactly what Washington and Colorado are doing,” added Hanger. “Three Presidents of the United States would have been branded drug criminals for life if they had been caught. That’s the only difference, they were caught.”
At the end of his presentation, Hanger began to talk more about his campaign strategy. Hanger outlined his path to victory as a mix between a mathematical equation and old-fashioned, retail politics.
“There are four million registered Democrats in the state,” Hanger explained. “One million will vote. Tonight there are eight candidates in the race. So, the winner needs 300,000 votes to win.”
Given the low amount of votes that will be needed to win the primary election, Hanger said that “this is a race that is more like running for Governor in New Hampshire.”
“You’re powerful, I hope you feel it,” Hanger told the crowd of college students. “We can shock the establishment.”
Hanger faces Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, Treasurer Rob McCord, former DEP Secretary Katie McGinty, businessman and Former Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, minister Max Myers, Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, and former Auditor General Jack Wagner.