Capital-Star Q+A: GOP gubernatorial hopeful Guy Ciarrocchi says he can jumpstart Pa.’s economy

He also talked mail-in voting, abortion, and why he’s the man to beat Josh Shapiro

By: - December 31, 2021 7:45 am

GOP Gubernatorial candidate Guy Ciarrocchi in his campaign launch ad.

Editor’s note: It’s still 2021 (for one more day), but the 2022 field for Pennsylvania governor is already well-developed. The Capital-Star is trying to sit down with as many candidates as possible to ask them about their campaigns, background, and issues impacting Pennsylvanians.

Feel free to email [email protected] with any questions you’d like to see posed to candidates in the future.

Guy Ciarrocchi is a 57-year-old business advocate and former staffer for Republican lawmakers in Washington D.C. and Harrisburg. A resident of Paoli in Chester County, he formerly led the county’s chamber of commerce before he left the job to run for governor.

Ciarrocchi has argued that the economy is the most important issue in the race, and thinks he can use his mix of experiences — including his time as chief of staff for former Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley — to change how the state’s bureaucracy works with businesses to encourage economic growth.

Capital-Star: The first question I’m starting everyone off with is, why do you want to be governor?

Guy Ciarrocchi: Because of several reasons. Our liberty has been taken away, and somebody has to restore it. Small businesses and their employees and the communities they serve need someone to fight for them and get them back open. Parents need to be reinstituted as being in charge of their own child’s education and kids need more opportunities in schools. And our cities should be places that people are excited to go to, not that they’re fleeing from or afraid to visit.

And with all due humility, I believe that I have set forth plans to handle those things and I have the experience to get them done and can build a coalition to help me get it done.

C-S: Let’s start with the economy because you’ve said the economy, that’s issue number one, two, and three. What would the economy, ideally look like after a Ciarrochi administration?

GC: That’s a great question. So let’s start at the end and work back. At the end of my administration, the big picture will be that Pennsylvania will be a destination state that people want to come to to start their business and work; that college graduates don’t feel as though they have to leave to go elsewhere to pursue a career. That’s just not the case now.

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We can go through data points and metrics and then we can talk about real life and I prefer to talk about real life … our economy, outside of a few places, is relatively stagnant. Our population is stagnant. There are parts of Pennsylvania, where families greet their children going to college with mixed blessing, because there is an apprehension that people are going, that their kids are going to graduate college and never come back because their future is elsewhere. 

Secondly, be a place that will be much more streamlined in how you open a business, because we want you to open businesses. The various taxes, regulations and certifications will not be a series of landmines that stop you from opening a business we’re gonna try and get you to ribbon cutting, and get employees working and [get] products being produced.

The third is we’re going to make it easier to get into work for the first time. We’re going to try and remove barriers for people starting out. We license and regulate too many things in Harrisburg, It’s 2021, we don’t need to license barbers and beauticians anymore and we certainly don’t need to make it impossible for them to get a license if they had a criminal background. So we need to help people get their career started. …

… Ultimately, we have all the assets we need in this state. We have more universities per capita than all but two states. We’re a leading agricultural producer. We have name brand international companies like Hershey and Vanguard. We have enough energy to power our state and most of the United States for the next century. We have a burgeoning life science industries that we need to foster in Pittsburgh and in the Philadelphia suburbs. So we have plenty of assets here to make sure it’s doable — what we’ve been lacking is a business plan that says ‘here’s the path to create jobs,’ and the willingness to implement it.

There’s every reason that this should be a top ten economy, much like Texas and Utah and Florida and places that people write about in the Wall Street Journal. This should be one of those states.

C-S: It sounds like [on] a lot of those things, it would require cooperation with the General Assembly — deregulation, getting rid of professional licensing, a lot of sounds like legislative priorities. You were Chief of Staff for Jim Cawley and other than that, you haven’t been in elected office. Why do you think you’re the right person to shepherd an agenda like that through the General Assembly?

GC: As we say, there’s a lot to unpack there so bear with me a second.

First, there’s plenty you can do as governor. You employ an executive staff and cabinet officials and sub cabinet officials who understand their objective is to get people open, not to lay out a series of landmines to stop them from opening. 

So whether it’s the [Department of Community and Economic Development, or DCED] or the other agencies, it begins with the governor staff, and it’s a total mindset change … the tragedy of U.S. Steel lobbying and waiting over 20 months for licensing and ultimately pulling the plug because nobody in Harrisburg seemed to care that they were waiting on certifications. You could [fix] a lot of that by mindset, and hiring a team of people that understand our objectives to get things open — pretty much the mindset that Governor [Ed] Rendell had when he was mayor of Philadelphia.

[Editor’s note: In a letter to the Pittsburgh community, U.S. Steel said that the permitting delay, between the company and the Allegheny County Department of Health, “allowed for a consequential window of time during which we expanded our understanding of steelmaking’s future in a rapidly decarbonizing world.”]

I would have a deputy chief of staff whose job is to help shepherd you through with major employment opportunities and get you to open. …The second is to actually go out and recruit and excite people and want to have them come here. So those are totally in our authority.

For things that [the Legislature] could do … We started down the path with criminal justice reform, I think in terms of employment, we scratched the surface. There seems to be a willingness to do this but I think we have to dig deeper, and make sure particularly for people who committed nonviolent offenses that we’re not using Pennsylvania’s licensing and certification process and as a barrier to that starting over.

… The other is deemed approved. The Legislature was trying to get deemed approved legislation through. I will not only sign it, I will campaign for it. If you apply for a license in Pennsylvania to do something, especially to create jobs, we should be on the clock, and you should know that after 90 or 180 days, you’re going to get an answer. That way, businesses get to know.

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That doesn’t mean the answer will always be yes, but we will promise you an answer. If the answer’s no, we can negotiate and fight over it; you can take us to court. But we can’t make people like U.S. Steel wait over 20 months and not get an answer because then they pull the plug.

Beyond that, there are things we can do with the Legislature that they would like to do in a whole host of other areas including, you know, education reform and growing life sciences and infrastructure. But first and foremost, don’t ever discount the fact that a governor committed to job growth can put people in position to do that and second of all, there are plenty of things you can do in terms of recruitment.

Let’s think back a few years ago, when Amazon was in the process of looking to build warehouses around the nation. Their response from Harrisburg was, ‘maybe we should have a warehouse tax because there’s this new burgeoning industry and we should create a new tax.’ Wrong.

The answer is the governor, the lieutenant governor, the Secretary of DCED, should have been on a plane to Amazon headquarters with half a dozen or a dozen locations in Pennsylvania, where we could have shown them in Reading; in the Lehigh Valley; in Philadelphia; in Pittsburgh; in Erie, where we could have put those warehouses. 

So I would just say, respectfully, don’t ever discount the fact that leadership and focus and a total change of attitude can make a world of difference.

I don’t think there’s any candidate on either side of the aisle that can hold a candle to my experience working in the Legislature, working with the legislators, yelling at the Legislature. I worked for four years as chief of staff to lieutenant governor, chief of staff to a member of Congress, chief of staff to a state senator from the suburbs of Pittsburgh. I was an advocate for my Chamber members for the last eight years, interacting with legislators.

If there’s a meeting room in Harrisburg, I’ve sat in every possible position. I’ve been a volunteer parent in the room asking legislators to do the right thing. I’ve been a professional advocate fighting for the right thing. I’ve been a legislative staffer. I’ve helped negotiate budgets. I don’t think there’s anyone running that’s better prepared that understands when Harrisburg works and when it doesn’t and how to get things done.

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C-S: Do you support the repeal of Act 77? That’s Pennsylvania’s law that allowed for mail-in balloting.

GC: I would support [York State Rep.] Seth Grove’s bill, which I think supersedes and addresses a lot of the concerns.

[Editor’s note: Grove’s bill, which Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed in June, requires voters to show ID every time they vote, requires signature verification of mail-in ballots, creates an office of election audits, gives counties five days before election day to process mail-in ballots, and allows for in-person early voting starting in 2025 — but it does not repeal mail-in ballots.]

C-S: Is there anything else you want to see done on elections or just Grove’s bill?

I want to make sure that we understand that a lot of things happened last year that we did because of the concerns around COVID And so now we should probably discuss them.

I am not a fan of drop boxes. I don’t know why we need drop boxes. I think it invites a lack of faith in what’s happening. … And to the extent that we’re going to have them, they should all be in places where they can be watched so we know who’s dropping [ballots] off. 

Second of all, mail-in voting is fine, I think the window — we have to talk about it, what’s a reasonable period of time to do this. I don’t know that people should be voting weeks and weeks and weeks before the election, so I’d like to have a discussion about what’s a reasonable period of time before the election.

At the same time I think we need voter ID, but I think Rep. Grove’s bill, that he had after voluminous hearings, I think it gives every person over the age of 18, who’s a resident of Pennsylvania, countless opportunities to prove they are who they are, and do it in meaningful ways.

So to me, we need voter ID. We can have mail-in voting, but one we should never – in Pennsylvania – mail ballots to people that don’t ask [for one.] There should be a window of time when balloting is done. I don’t like drop boxes, and I’m happy to have voter ID with lots of options to do it.

Here’s the reality. Democrats were upset after the 2000 election because they weren’t comfortable with that process. Democrats are upset about the 2016 election because they weren’t comfortable with that process. Many Republicans are upset after the 2020 election because they weren’t comfortable with that process. I think we’re all duty bound to figure out a way here in Pennsylvania to come up with a process where there are clear rules. 

C-S: We’ve talked about the economy and that’s kind of been your pitch in talking to the media. Do you think that the economy number one, two three message is enough to get through the GOP primary? Social issues like guns and abortion drive a lot of engagement in politics, will it be enough to be talking about what you’re going to do for people to open businesses and not what your position is on guns and abortion?

GC: Well I think the economy is issue number one two and three, right? I mean Pennsylvania’s economy is still lagging behind the national economy. There are workforce shortages, there are supply chain shortages. There are some businesses that didn’t come back after the reopening; there are some businesses not at full strength. And I think it’s what most people are concerned about.

Even if you’re working full time, the businesses you shop at and your neighbors’ businesses are in trouble so I think the economy is gonna be with us as a major issue. …

… Step one in fixing things was being a part of vote yes, so that no governor – of any party, for any reason – could ever do what Tom Wolf, and [former Secretary of Health] Dr. [Rachel] Levine did to us. So I think a lot of voters are happy to know that, one. I was a part of a leading voice in making sure that we passed those ballot initiatives. 

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Two, any of these, any of these mandates, dictates, executive orders that have been passed down that are left in place that don’t make sense? They’re going to be repealed. And three, we’re going to have to pass legislation so that people can go to work and kids go to school

So, it is not simply ‘just about the economy’ — which is issue one two and three — but it’s making sure that we have the rules in place to stop rules like [COVID mitigation efforts] from ever being in place again, to ever do this to us. And I think if we get the economy going, if we can make sure the schools are open, and that our kids can learn, we can protect our liberty.

C-S: Would you sign legislation that restricts access to abortion, such as six-week ban that we’ve seen in Texas?

GC: I would support legislation that would protect innocent life.

C-S: Would that include a six-week ban?

GC: I don’t know that Pennsylvania is ready for that yet. But I think there are 30,000 abortions in Pennsylvania. I would think that everyone would like to lower that number. I would be shocked if anyone didn’t want to lower that number. And I’m disappointed that we never talked about the innocent lives that are lost. Resolving that issue is complicated. Part of it is through legislation — we haven’t updated our pro-life legislation since [former Democratic] Governor [Bob] Casey was here. It’s far past time to revisit that.

But secondly, we need to have a conversation. We need to have a conversation and make sure that everyone understands that we take 30,000 lives a year. We should try and lower that. Part of that discussion is about the value of life.

Part of it is to make sure that women who face crisis pregnancies are given the support they need, and that the man who’s responsible for the baby, who is the dad, is held accountable. I think we can do all of those things and I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t have a frank discussion, and anyone that wants to have this as sort of a yes-no binary discussion is not being serious about it.

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C-S: Do you think that you’re the right person to beat Josh Shapiro?

GC: Yes. I will pick up Josh Shapiro on May 18 in my car  — although he apparently prefers a giant Winnebago bus. I will drive Josh Shapiro with me around Pennsylvania.

I will take him back to Philadelphia. I will take him to South Philadelphia where I grew up and he can explain why he’s abandoned their cities to violence and crime. He’ll explain why he was nowhere to be found when the kids of Philadelphia went almost 18 months without seeing a live teacher. He was silent; the man who wants to be governor of Pennsylvania sat silently while the largest school district in Pennsylvania took their kids out of classrooms. Meanwhile, the Catholic schools a block away were open, so we can have those discussions about crime, violence and why he abandoned the kids of Philadelphia.

We move out west and talk about why in his world, the natural gas industry will be brought to a standstill and people won’t manufacture things anymore because he’s decided those jobs are dirty and unseemly, and he’s going to offer them retraining dollars. 

I’m happy to debate Josh Shapiro. First and foremost, he can explain why he’s the chief law enforcement officer of the state, and he’s done nothing to fight crime. 

He can explain to us why he’s the chief law enforcement officer, and he had the audacity to put those questions on the ballot, with every intention of confusing voters and not having them pass.

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He can explain to all of us why he spends more time on Twitter, telling half of Pennsylvania that their values and ideas are wrong, and yet he holds the power to take people’s lives and livelihoods away from us.

As Attorney General, he oughta resign today, He ought to have resigned weeks ago. And we’re going to remind people everyday that he holds the power to take people’s lives and livelihoods away from them, while he politics and tells at least half of the state that he disagrees with their views or values. Yeah, I’m ready for Josh Shapiro and I’ll be happy to pick him up this afternoon, and we will debate from Erie to South Philly and back again.

I am absolutely the right person because he is wrong on every issue. The person in office as Attorney General today has nothing to do with the young man who went to the State House from Abington years ago. I’d be happy to debate his record, my record, and two diametrically opposed views of the way Pennsylvania should be.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is the Capital-Star's House reporter. He previously covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter. You can reach him at 845-891-4306.

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