Scott Wagner calls climate advocate 'young and naive' at town hall meeting

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Scott Wagner

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner isn't exactly a climate change denier, but that didn't stop him from calling a young climate advocate "young and naive" after she questioned funding he's received from gas companies.

Rose Strauss, a member of the Sunrise Movement, a nonprofit youth climate advocacy organization, attended Wagner's Wednesday, July 18, town hall at the North Penn VFW in Glenside, Montgomery County.

Rose Strauss

Town hall altercation: Strauss took the opportunity to confront the gubernatorial candidate on campaign donations he has received from fossil fuel companies, but Wagner wasn't interested in the numbers.

A video of the altercation was originally posted on Twitter by Sean Kitchen, a writer and activist in Harrisburg:

"You've said that climate change is a result of people's body heat and are refusing to take action on the issue," Strauss said. "Does this have anything to do with the $200,000 you have taken from the fossil fuel industry?"

Wagner, who made headlines last year after proposing that climate change is caused by human body heat, worked around the question.

More:John Oliver pokes fun at Wagner on 'Last Week Tonight'

"You're 18 years old; you're a little young and naive," Wagner responded. "I appreciate you being here, but are we here to elect a governor or are we here to elect a scientist?

Wagner went on to say that he believes "climate change is important," but he quickly shifted to a 2016 Wall Street Journal article about sinkholes and infrastructure problems in Harrisburg.

Wagner said such issues are more important than climate change.

"Climate change is important, but I'm more interested in the sewage going into the Susquehanna River," he said.

Intimidation? Prior to the video, Strauss said Wagner gave specific attention to her and asked how she was in a tone that he didn't use with other audience members.

Prefacing the interaction with these questions, she said, felt like a way to "intimidate her" before she asked her question. 

"What he said was patronizing, and I think he was trying to intimidate me," she said. "I could tell it was him being dismissive to me and trying to play down what I was saying."

The Wagner campaign couldn't be reached for comment.

To other news outlets, however, Wagner's spokesman Andrew Romeo said the candidate was calling the young activist naive because of her apparent suggestion he doesn't believe in climate change.

This wasn't how it seemed to Strauss.

"That's not the impression that I got at all," Strauss said. "His response was to completely avoid the question, and he instead talked about sewage water and sinkholes."

Although accused of being naive, Strauss' statements about campaign funding were fairly accurate.

Wagner's campaign has received $163,750 from the oil and gas industry — the fifth highest-donating industry to the campaign — according to Vote Smart, a nonprofit political watch-dog organization.

His opponent, Gov. Tom Wolf, has received $98,000 from the same industry, which makes it the 23rd highest-donating industry to his campaign, according to the organization.

Those campaigning with Wolf quickly took Strauss' side.

John Fetterman, Wolf's running mate, had some fun with the video on Twitter and released a small string of tweets poking fun at Wagner.

"Fake news," Fetterman wrote. "'Naive' teens better show Scott Wagner the respect he's due in the climate science community."

In a following Tweet, Fetterman wrote, "Scott Wagner has had just about enough of this. He's already settled the science."

All fun aside, Wagner's attitude toward a younger voter could hurt his chances with the youth vote in the November elections, Strauss said.

"There are so many people that are feeling like Wagner isn't addressing their concerns, especially when it comes to issues like climate change that will affect our generation," she said. "Refusing to acknowledge my question is really not going to look good for voters my age."

If Strauss is right about the youth vote, it would be a cause of concern for the Wagner campaign.

Voting demographics: For the first time in the state's history, voters between the ages of 18 and 34 outnumber voters 65 and older, and they're overwhelmingly liberal, according to July statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of State.

More:Trump, social media drive surge in Pennsylvania's young voter ranks

More:Editorial: The growing importance of America’s youth vote

Statewide, registered voters under 34 outnumber those 65 and older by 4.4 percent— 2,127,575 to 2,035,354.

Young voters in York County haven't quite surpassed older voters, but the gap between the two age groups continues to shrink.

As of this July, county voters 65 and older outnumbered those 34 and younger by only 1 percent — 69,349 to 68,682.

Between the ages of 18 and 34, Democrats outnumber Republicans by 47.6 percent in Pennsylvania — 1,041,170 to 640,866.

In York County, however, Republicans have the upper hand by numbers, giving Wagner some hope in the overall conservative-leaning county.

County Republicans from ages 18 to 34 outnumber county Democrats by 18.3 percent —28,715 to 23,905