A Wednesday night debate pulled the personalities of the GOP race for the 28th Senate seat into bold contrast for a crowd of Republican voters who heard ideas from an unremitting and tenacious businessman and his more measured and pragmatic competitor.

Though the men share some policy positions, the personal differences between state Sen. Scott Wagner and veterans' advocate Zack Hearn were manifest from the opening statements of the courteous exchange, held at the York Jewish Community Center and organized by The Republican Club of York and The York Dispatch.

Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, who was elected to temporarily fill the seat through the end of the year, gave the audience his assessment of the Capitol after his six weeks in office, saying the problems there are "actually worse than I expected."

(Bill Kalina)

He painted the picture of a Harrisburg fat with legislators and staffers, having "zero leaders" but plenty of career politicians who got "sucked into a bad system" from an early age.

Wagner said dauntless efforts were needed to break through the political muck, ending a sentence with a blunt metaphor that seemed to catch some attendees off-guard.

"Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off," Wagner said with trademark candor, later promising to "ruffle feathers."

York Township Republican voter Patty Myers, 54, was knitting a colorful lap shawl for her "Nana" as she watched the men exchange ideas.

Though she was undecided at the start of the debate, Wagner's assertiveness won her Tuesday primary vote by the end of it, she said.

"I think Scott Wagner will win, and he will serve our needs well," she said, adding that she found his style to be "a confidence-builder."

"He knows what he wants to accomplish, and he plans to do that."

Different styles: Hearn countered Wagner's assertiveness with practicality, warning against "short-sighted" solutions while also advocating for action to reform property taxes and find a solution to the state's pension concerns.

He commended Wagner for his 35 years in business, but advised that his own years working as a veterans advocate in Washington, D.C., have taught him that the public sector is different from business operations.

Businesses look out for themselves, while public officials need to look out for everyone, he said.

The issues: Wagner supports Senate Bill 76 to eliminate property taxes by shifting to sales and incomes taxes, though he acknowledged the plan isn't "perfect" and the financial solvency of the shift is uncertain.

"But we have to start somewhere," he said. "Harrisburg for years hasn't started anywhere."

Hearn, however, cautioned against committing to the shift before dealing with the underlying issues that cause school district property taxes to increase: unfunded mandates and a flawed state funding formula that has put York districts at a disadvantage.

The men are both in favor of privatizing the state's liquor stores, and both said the transportation bill passed last year was needed.

But while Hearn favors a hybrid 401(k)/pension plan to address a growing pension funding crisis, Wagner said he would favor a full 401(k) plan, though he still needs to learn more about the issue and work through the numbers.

The debate was moderated by WPMT Fox 43 personality Bill Toth. Democrat Linda Small, in attendance at the debate, will appear on the Democratic ballot unopposed.

The 28th Senate District covers Chanceford, Codorus, East Hopewell, Fawn, Heidelberg, Hellam, Hopewell, Lower Chanceford, Lower Windsor, Manchester, Manheim, North Codorus, North Hopewell, Paradise, Peach Bottom, Shrewsbury, Spring Garden, Springfield, West Manchester, Windsor and York townships and the boroughs of Cross Roads, Dallastown, Delta, East Prospect, Fawn Grove, Felton, Glen Rock, Hallam, Jacobus, Jefferson, Loganville, New Freedom, New Salem, North York, Railroad, Red Lion, Seven Valleys, Shrewsbury, Spring Grove, Stewartstown, West York, Windsor, Winterstown, Wrightsville, Yoe and Yorkana, as well as all of York City.

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.