Two candidates in a hotly contested state Senate race traded a few jabs during a debate in Fairview Township on Tuesday.

State Rep. Mike Regan, who wants to become a senator, called out fellow Republican candidate Jon Ritchie for taking campaign dollars from unions and accepting their endorsements, something Regan implied no GOPer should do.

"It's like al-Qaida saying they back George Bush," Regan said during his two-minute closing speech.

Ritchie, a former NFL player, attempted to give a rebuttal but the moderator wouldn't allow it, citing the rules of the debate. However, during his own closing speech, he said he's beholden to no one.

Two other Republicans — Camp Hill-area dentist Brice Arndt  and Scott Harper, an attorney from Washington Township — are also running for the seat, which is being vacated by retiring Sen. Pat Vance.

The York County Economic Alliance hosted the packed-house debate at the Fairview Township Fire Department. A debate between the three GOP candidates for the 92nd House District immediately preceded the Senate debate.

Jabs: Regan and Ritchie also sparred over the state budget and the nine-monthlong impasse that finally came to an end last month.

Regan said he resented a previous implication Ritchie made that the lawmakers did nothing during the impasse. Regan said he and fellow House Republicans stood up to what he called Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's tax increases.

"We not only said 'no' but we said 'hell no,'" Regan said. "The governor would not play ball."

Ritchie countered that the GOP budget Wolf allowed to become law still has a $2 billion structural deficit and leaves taxpayers paying for costs associated with loans human service and other agencies had to take out during the impasse.

"I want accountability," Ritchie said.

The majority of the debate centered around other issues and, as Harper noted, the candidates seemed to agree on most of them.

"Nevertheless, I want to be a public servant for you," Harper said.

Privatization: The candidates did differ on how they'd go about privatizing state liquor stores, even though they all agreed state government shouldn't be the state's sole liquor seller and that beer sales should be expanded.

Ritchie said the state should move toward full privatization in steps. If beer and wine sales are expanded, the state stores would see revenue drop, forcing the state out of the business.

"Within five years they will go under and this system will crumble," Ritchie said.

Selling off the state liquor store licenses would be a cash windfall for the state, Arndt said, adding that money could be used for pension obligations.

Harper said he's for privatization — as are most Pennsylvanians, according to years-old polls — and expanded beer sales, but special interest groups have opposed it.

Wolf has also opposed full privatization and last year vetoed a GOP-crafted privatization bill.

"I don't think we're going to see real privatization until we get a Republican governor," Regan said.

Republicans were unable to get privatization legislation to former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett despite holding historic majorities in the House and Senate.

Candidates night: Voters in the 31st Senate District will have one last chance to meet the candidates ahead of Tuesday's primary.

The Hampden Township (Cumberland County) Republican Association will hold a candidates night at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Good Hope fire station, 1200 Good Hope Road in the township.

The 31st Senate District includes an area that stretches from Fairview Township in the north to Jackson Township in the south as well as a large area of Cumberland County.

Since no Democrats are running for the Senate seat, the race could be decided in the primary unless a third-party candidate joins the race, or if someone launches a write-in campaign. Third-party candidates have until Aug. 1 to file nomination papers.

— Reach Greg Gross at

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