The debate between Pennsylvania incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Scott Wagner, was meant to showcase the candidates. Unfortunately, it was the moderator who stole the show — at least in many audience member’s minds.
That’s because the debate — put on by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry — featured Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek in the leading role.
According to reporting from the Washington Post, Trebek engaged the candidates as well as audience members, at times offering up his own takes on “hot” issues — a move that most moderators tend to avoid. On the controversy regarding the Catholic Church, Trebek tried to make a joke about the topic in his opening lines, comparing the dismal approval ratings for the state legislature to a scandal ridden Catholic Church.
Boos from audience members ensued, and Trebek tried to explain himself.
“I was born and raised in the Catholic Church and I’m just as ticked off as everybody else is over what has happened with the church,” he said.
It didn’t stop there. On the question of a severance tax, Trebek offered his opinion, arguing that such a tax would bring in a “lot of money” for the state. When members of the audience audibly disagreed, Trebek tried to defend his opinion.
“No? No, it would not? Who says no, it would not? You have the impact fee now which has brought in $1.2 billion in the last seven years, and you’re telling me a 6 percent severance tax would not bring in money?”
Trebek — who has donated to Republican candidates in the past — has been critical of President Donald Trump in recent years. He considers himself an independent.
Some criticized his performance on Monday evening, suggesting that it seemed like Trebek was trying to run for office against the candidates onstage that he was meant to referee.
not enough people are talking about the fact that pennsylvania's one and only debate in the governor's race is being moderated by ALEX TREBEK https://t.co/9J22vDvgJK
— Anna Orso (@anna_orso) October 1, 2018
“Mr. Trebek is to be commended for his obviously rigorous preparation for this event, but he is not running for Pennsylvania’s governor,” League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania Executive Director Jill Greene said.
Although possibly shocking to many who observed it, Trebek’s moderation style should not be surprising. In 2013, he explained that, if ever given the chance to host such an event, he wouldn’t want to do it in a traditional way, according to reporting from the Hill.
“Unlike some of the other moderators — I’m not going to disparage them — but I have a different approach,” Trebek said then. “I would not let the politicians get away with standard responses. I would try to pin them down, even though I might look bad doing it.”