POTTOWN — Five candidates for federal and state office spoke to voters Thursday during a candidate forum at the Ricketts Community Center sponsored by the NAACP.

On the sidelines were Christian Nascimento, a Republican seeking to unseat Democratic incumbent Madeleine Dean in Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District; Republican Tracy Penicuick and Democrat Jill Dennin, both running for the state Senate seat from Pennsylvania’s 24th District; and incumbent state Rep. Joe Ciresi, a Democrat, and his Republican opponent, Thomas Neafsi, are both running for the 146th state House District seat.

Dean was unable to attend, but was represented by her chief of staff, Ko Chiba, who said he was not on the clock, paid by taxpayers, when he spoke that evening on behalf of Dean’s campaign. He devoted his two minutes to talking about Dean’s accomplishments in office and the accomplishments of the 117th Congress.

The candidates, who had two minutes for opening remarks, answered questions from the audience about energy production, abortion, fair school funding, the teacher shortage and school choice, bipartisanship and Harrisburg’s dysfunctional culture, homelessness and affordable housing, election protections and civil rights.

Christian Nascimento, Republican candidate for the 4th Congressional District, speaks at a candidate forum at the Ricketts Community Center on Thursday. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

In that issue, Nascimento, a former Methacton school board member, surprised a few potential voters when he said he believes President Biden legitimately won the 2020 election, that he does not believe in substantial voter fraud and that he supports voting rights. “I think we should make it easier for people to vote, not harder,” he said.

He said he was “pro-life, but I think we have to find a way to have a conversation and reach a compromise.”

Nascimento also agreed with candidates on both sides of the aisle when he said, “When you watch the news, the news will tell you the Republicans are here and the Democrats are here, but what I’ve found more than not is that we’re a lot closer, what is it As a community, we always come together to lift each other up.”

Which isn’t to say there isn’t partisanship, especially in Harrisburg, according to both incumbents in the race for state House seats.

Penniquick, who currently represents the 147th House District, expressed real frustration with the way the House Republican leadership is killing the bills. “We have shouting matches at the party meeting, it’s shit,” she said. “We’ve had bills with a lot of co-sponsors and they don’t come up for a vote.”

Cirezi, sitting on the opposite side of the aisle, agreed.

Both have a number of bills they both signed in support of, things like fair school funding and a $15-an-hour minimum wage, that have failed to come up or be voted on.

“There have been 3,300 bills, and maybe 300 of them are coming up for a vote, and only 3-4 percent of them are Democratic bills,” he said, adding that he has built relationships with the most conservative members of the House of Representatives in an effort to bring bridges.

The only Democrat on the Spring-Ford School Board in his 12 years there, Ciresi said, “I’m proud to work with Republicans to achieve success. This work is about community. We don’t have to hate each other just because we disagree.”

On the subject of election integrity, Pennyquick said: “I don’t think there’s any fraud, but I don’t think we’re doing it right. She said different standards in different counties — one county may count undated absentee ballots and another may not — make the process inconsistent. “All 67 counties have to have the same training, and I don’t think we’re adequately funding elections.”

Neafsi said “the integrity of elections is important” and defended his position that a voter’s ID should be required to vote.

Neafsey touted his 21 years as Limerick Township manager, noting that the township is debt-free, hasn’t raised taxes in years and sold its sewer system to a private company to pay for projects like a new township building and a new fire station without burdening taxpayers.

“I want to bring that municipal experience to Harrisburg,” he said, suggesting that Harrisburg “sometimes spends our money very recklessly.”

Describing himself as “a fighter, a hustler,” Neafsi said he believes in term limits and would not serve more than eight years if elected.

Deneen touted her 22 years of experience as a school and community volunteer, substitute teacher and Boyertown School District member. She said her time volunteering at the Pottstown Faith Cluster Food Pantry “opened my eyes to the needs of Pottstown and the effects of inequitable school funding, gun violence, and the social and psychological effects of poverty and homelessness.”

If Pennsylvania doesn’t “fairly fund our schools, we’re going to fail as a commonwealth,” she said, adding that in all her time in schools, “I’ve never had a teacher say ‘yeah, give me a gun “.

Pottstown High School’s new principal, Christian D’Annibale, was on hand to ask the candidates how they were going to address Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage crisis, “especially black and brown teachers.”

Pennyquick said instead of giving money to colleges, “with $34 billion in endowments, give that money to students who are going to be teachers and nurses and have them work in Pennsylvania for five years and they don’t have to pay it back “.

The candidates also discussed ways to increase affordable housing and reduce homelessness, as well as ways to improve the quality of life for Pennsylvania’s senior citizens.

And resident John Johnson lamented the divided state of the nation. “We’ve become a divided state in America, and I think part of that has to do with all these campaign ads where people are beating each other up.”