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Politics & Government

High Turnout Reported, Polls Closed in PA

Pennsylvania_December_2011_Redistricting_Map 2.jpg

The polls are now closed across Pennsylvania but voters in line by 8 o'clock are permitted to cast their ballotes.  Long lines were the order of the day because of the tight race between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, but also because Pennsylvania, unlike 34 other states, does not have early voting in the days and weeks leading up to Election Day.  Pennsylvania has 20 electoral votes compared to 21 in the 2008 presidential election. With 20, Pennsylvania is tied with Illinois for the fifth most electoral votes.

In addition to the presidential contest, Pennsylvania voters made their choices in several other statewide contests.

U.S. Senate:  Casey versus Smith

Democratic incumbent Bob Casey, seeking a second six-year term, is trying to fend off a challenge from Republican nominee Tom Smith, a former owner of a coal company.  Smith has poured millions of dollars from his personal resources into the campaign.

Casey has labeled Smith, the founder of the Armstrong County Tea Party, as a radical.  However, Smith argued his supporters do not see it that way. “No matter where I travel in Pennsylvania, what people want to talk about, and these people are no different, is jobs and the economy,” Smith said. “And that is what this election’s about."  

Smith supports allowing future Medicare recipients to use a government check to cover the cost of private health care as a way to reduce the government program’s cost, but Casey calls that a voucher system and aligned Smith with Republican plans in Congress to bring more dramatic changes to Medicare.

Casey said he has worked on legislation that keeps an eye out for the middle class, like a trade adjustment assistance bill, which became law as part of a larger trade package. He also pointed to his good working relationship with Pennsylvania’s Republican junior U.S. Senator, Pat Toomey.

Congress:  Candidates Deal With Redrawn Districts

There are 18 races for the U.S. House in Pennsylvania today, down from 19 in 2010.  That's because Pennsylvania lost one seat in the House due to reapportionment as a result of the latest U.S. Census.  The commonwealth's population grew at a slower rate between 2000-10 than other states' populations.  The 4th Congressional District was shifted from southwestern Pennsylvania to Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin and York Counties.

District 12:  Critz versus Rothfus

In the redrawn 12th district that stretches from Pittsburgh's North Hills to Cambria County,  Congressman Mark Critz of Johnstown defeated fellow Democratic incumbent Jason Altmire in the April Primary.  Critz is seeking a second full two-year term in office after winning a special election in May 2010 to serve out the remaining months of the term of the late Congressman John Murtha.   Critz is being challenged by Republican Keith Rothfus who narrowly lost to Altmire two years ago. 

Possibly the sharpest difference between Critz and Rothfus involves Medicare. The Republican challenger said Congressman Critz has no concrete plan to fund the program.

“There’s a serious, bipartisan proposal on the table from Senator Wyden and Congressman Ryan for those under 55 to bring a little bit of competition into how we get Medicare," said Rothfus. 

However, Critz derided the Ryan-Wyden Medicare plan as a voucher program that would start too quickly in 2016. By contrast, the Democrat said the Affordable Care Act funds Medicare through 2024. “Giving us an extra eight years to 2024 allows us to look at the program [and] work on bringing health care costs down, which is where the major issue is," said Critz. 

Critz said he opposes some parts of the Affordable Care Act, but said he would not vote to repeal it. On the other hand, Rothfus said he would vote to repeal the healthcare law.

District 18 Murphy versus Maggi

In the 18th district that includes Pittsburgh's South Hills, Washington and Greensburg, Republican incumbent Tim Murphy is in his tenth year in the House.  His Democratic challenger is Larry Maggi, a former state trooper, county sheriff, and currently a Washington County Commissioner. One of the points of contention between these two is health care.  Maggi said he supports some parts of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, but not others.

"Congress should, instead of trying to continuously bring it up to repeal it when it’s not going to happen, they should discuss the problem areas in it and fix it.”

Congressman Murphy has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act twenty-three times and says while the law has some merits it must be heavily revised.

"It keeps people from being cut from insurance if they are sick, and allows kids to stay on [their parents’] policies [until age 26]," said Murphy. "But that’s just a couple items out of thousands of pages. It is important that we get back and work this bill out.”

District 14:  Doyle versus Lessmann

In the 14th district that includes the city of Pittsburgh and some eastern and southern suburbs, Democratic incumbent Mike Doyle of Forest Hills is trying for a tenth two-year term in the House.  Doyle's Republican challenger is Hans Lessmann, a 52 year old optometrist from Forest Hills, who opposes the Affordable Care Act and supports eliminating health benefits provided by employers and instead provide tax credits for individuals to purchase their own care.

District 3:  Kelly versus Eaton

To the north of Pittsburgh, starting in the Butler area and stretching to Erie is the redrawn 3rd district where Republican Congressman Mike Kelly is wrapping up his first term in office.  His Democratic challenger is Missa Eaton from Sharon, Mercer County is an assistant professor of psychology at Penn State-Shenango.  Also on the ballot running as an independent is Steven Porter, of Wattburg in Erie County, who is a retired teacher and composer.  He is making his third bid for Congress.  Porter unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat in 2004 and 2006.

District 9:  Shuster versus Ramsburg

The redrawn 9th district makes its way west from Fulton County to Fayette, Washington and Greene Counties and to the west northwest to Indiana County.   Republican incumbent Bill Shuster from Hollidaysburg, Blair County  succeeded his father, Bud Shuster as Congressman in May 2001.  Karen Ramsburg, a registered nurse from Mercersburg, calls herself an independent but is running as a Democrat.  Ramsburg does not support the Affordable Care Act.  She proposes keeping the private insurance industry intact  but eliminating government involvement in private coverage and permitting competition among insurers across state lines.

PA Row Offices

Attorney General:  Freed, Kane, Rogers

Incumbent Linda Kelly is not running for a full four-year term as Pennsylvania's top law enforcement officer.  She agreed not to run as a condition for Senate approval of her nomination to serve out the last two years of the term of Tom Corbett who resigned the post after being elected as governor. Three candidates are on the ballot.

Former Lackawanna County Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Kane is the Democratic nominee for Attorney General.  Kane defeated Patrick Murphy in the Democratic primary by a margin of 53% to 47%.  Her Republican opponent is Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed who was unopposed for his party's nomination. The Libertarian candidate for Attorney General is Marakay Rogers of York who ran for governor in 2010.  

Freed has been the Cumberland County District Attorney for the past six years.  Before that, he was an assistant county DA.  Kane spent 12 years as an assistant DA in Lackawanna County.

Freed and Kane say they'll take a look at the handling of the Jerry Sandusky prosecution.  Freed listed his priorities for the office to include enhancing consumer protection. "I want to start right away a special victims unit, streamline the referral process, I want to make us a leader in cyber-crime investigation, and I want to make sure that we battle synthetic drugs," said Freed.

Kane promised she would try cases herself as AG if she were the most qualified lawyer in the office and has her own list of “if-elected” priorities. "I will make sure that the public corruption unit has more investigators and or prosecutors. I will make sure that I use my independence to clean up Harrisburg."

Freed's father-in-law is LeRoy Zimmerman, the commonwealth’'s first elected Attorney General.  Zimmerman is still well-known in Republican circles and as a former chairman of the Hershey Trust Company, which the AG’s office is currently investigating for reasons it doesn’t divulge.  Republicans have won all eight of the AG contests since the office became an elected position in 1980.

Auditor General:  DePasquale, Maher, Summers

Two members of the Pennsylvania House and a third party candidate want to succeed Jack Wagner as Auditor General.  State law limits Wagner to two consecutive four-year terms in that office.

Veteran State Representative John Maher (R-Allegheny County), who owns an auditing company, captured the Republican nomination in April by a two to one margin. Maher is taking on Democrat Eugene DePasquale from York County who is serving his third two-year term in the House.

The Libertarian nominee is Betsy Summers from Wilkes-Barre, a sales representative for a veterinary supply company.  She also ran for the post in 2008.

Treasurer:  Fryman, Irey Vaughan, McCord

The race for treasurer is the only row office contest that includes an incumbent.  Democrat Rob McCord is running for a second term and is challenged by Republican nominee Diana Irey Vaughan and Libertarian Patricia Fryman from Polk, Venango County.  Irey Vaughan is in her 17th year as a Washington County Commissioner. Fryman is retired and a former auditor for Venango County.

McCord is a former investment banker with a background in venture capital and points to his business credentials and his track record during the last four years. "We've had record breaking returns since I came into office, with reduced risks. We've also had record breaking improvements in efficiency, and positive cash flow for the state."

Irey Vaughan said balancing seven consecutive budgets without raising taxes, prepared her for the job of treasurer.

"Washington County has one of the lowest tax rates in the region and in the state. We are third in economic job growth," Irey Vaughan said.  "Being fiscally conservative has served Washington County well. It serves us well in our homes. It would serve all of our governments well.

State Legislative Contests

PA Senate

Unlike the federal legislative elections, candidates for state House and Senate seats had to run in the districts drawn in 2002.  That's because the maps devised by a five member legislative reapportionment panel have been challenged in court and no final decision has been made.

In the Pennsylvania Senate, Republicans continue to maintain a strong margin—29 to 20 over the Democrats with one vacancy due to the resignation in early July by Republican John Pippy who left the Senate to return to the private sector.  That vacancy has led to one of the three contested Senate races in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Senate District 37:  Raja versus Smith

The battle to fill the seat left open by the departure of John Pippy has been a heated one between Republican D. Raja and Democrat Matt Smith, both from Mt. Lebanon.  Raja is the co-founder of CEI, an I-T solutions company, and lost his bid in 2011 to Rich Fitzgerald for Allegheny County Executive.

Smith is finishing his third two-year term as a state representative in district 42. In addition to his Senate contest, Smith is seeking reelection to his House seat.

Senate district 37 includes 31 western and northwestern suburbs in Allegheny County and Peters Township in Washington County.

Senate District 35: Wozniak versus Houser

After serving 16 years in the Pennsylvania House, Democrat John Wozniak of Johnstown is wrapping up his 16th year in the Senate.  He is seeking a fifth four-year term but is being challenged by Republican Timothy Houser, a funeral director from Ebensburg who wants to "control reckless spending."

Senate district 35 includes all of Cambria County and parts of  Clearfield, Clinton, and Somerset Counties.

Senate District 47:  Vogel versus Villella

The winner of this election might very well be serving the final term for district 47 in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Due to population growth in the Poconos, one Senate district from the Pittsburgh region is to be shifted to Monroe County.  District 47 is under consideration to be moved eastward.

Republican incumbent Elder Vogel, Jr., a dairy farmer, is seeking a second four-year term in office.  He is the legislative sponsor of a proposal by Governor Corbett to provide a $1.65 billion tax break to Royal Dutch Shell to build an ethane cracker in Beaver County.  His Democratic challenger is Kimberly Villella, a small business owner and borough councilwoman in Baden.

District 47 comprises Crescent Township in Allegheny County, most of Beaver County and 17 communities in Lawrence County.

PA House

Voters are electing representatives today for all 203 seats in the state House.  The current composition of the lower chamber of the General Assembly is 109 Republicans and 91 Democrats with three vacancies including district #50 which was occupied by one time House Speaker Bill DeWeese who resigned April 24 less than two hours before he was sentenced on five felony counts for the illegal use of state resources for political campaigns.

Of the 23 House elections in the Pittsburgh area only 10 are contested.

House District 16:  Matzie versus Coder

Republican Kathleen Coder has served four years as president of Bellevue Borough Council and owns a consulting firrm.   She is calling for a smaller legislature and property tax assessment reform.  The Democratic incumbent Robert Matzie from Ambridge is seeking a third two-year term in district 16 that includes Bell Acres, Bellevue, Franklin Park, Leet, Leetsdale and Ross in Allegheny County along with Ambridge, Aliquippa, Baden, Conway and  Economy in Beaver County. 

House District 20:  Barr versus Ravenstahl

The incumbent Democrat Adam Ravenstahl has been a member of the House since June 2010 after winning a special election to serve out the last six months of the term of former Representative Don Walko, now a Common Pleas Court judge.  Ravenstahl, whose brother is mayor of Pittsburgh, then won a full two year term in November of that year.

Jim  Barr is the only Constitution Party candidate on the ballot in Pennsylvania.  Barr didn’t run down a list of issues, instead he said his platform is simple – to strictly enforce the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions.

“If they went strictly by the constitution that would definitely…we could balance budgets, I would be opposed to our National Guard troops going overseas. The National Guard was designed to protect the states." 

There is no Republican on the ballot in district 20 that includes the North Side, Strip District, Polish Hill, Stanton Heights, and Lawrenceville in the city of Pittsburgh.

House District 22: Cratsley versus Molchany

Democrat Martin Schmotzer won a special election April 24 of this year to serve out the last 8 months of the term of Chelsa Wagner who resigned her House seat after she was elected Allegheny County Controller.  However, Schmotzer lost the Democratic primary contest to Erin Molchany to run for a full two-year term.

The Republican nominee Chris Cratsley, who works for BNY Mellon, says there are two areas in the budget on which he would focus: funding for public transportation to avoid mass transit service cuts and increased funding for public education.

Democrat Molchany is the former executive director of PUMP (Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project) and says that public transit funding is a priority for her and added she will not vote for any additional cuts to public education.

House District 25:  Markosek versus Doyle

Democrat Joe Markosek of Monroeville has served in the Pennsylvania House since 1982.  He says his priorities are restoring funding that was cut from public education and higher education.  His Republican opponent is Mike Doyle, not the longtime Congressman, but rather the Plum Borough Council president.  Doyle says his priorities focus on reducing the size of the legislature and cutting "wasteful spending."

House district 25 includes parts of eastern Allegheny and western Westmoreland Counties.

House District 30:  English versus Tusick

The candidates are looking to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Randy Vulakovich who won a special election to serve out the last two-and-a half years of the state Senate term of Jane Orie who resigned the seat following her conviction on public corruption charges.

Republican Hal English is an attorney from Hampton who says he wants term limits on members of the General Assembly and wants to reduce the size of the legislature.  English is also calling for reform of the property tax system.  

His Democratic opponent David Tusick of Fox Chapel is a partner in an adverstising agency.   He wants to restore funding that was cut to education and trim the corporate income tax rate.  District 30 includes Fox Chapel and Hampton and parts of Shaler, O'Hara and Ross. 

House District 39:  Saccone versus Levdansky

This contests pits the current incumbent, Republican Rick Saccone of Elizabeth against the former incumbent, Democrat Dave Levdansky of Forward Township. Levdansky served 26 years in the state House before being upset by Saccone in November 2010.

Levdansky says he would create jobs by limiting state contracts to Pennsylvania companies and wants to restore $1 billion cut from education in the state.  Saccone says he wants to take strong action on audits that have revealed wasteful spending in state agencies.  Saccone garnered attention in January when he introduced a resolution in the House proclaiming 2012 as the "Year of the Bible," which eventually was passed unanimously.  That resolution credits biblical teachings for inspiring “concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States,”

District 39 includes Clairton, Elizabeth Borough, Forward, Jefferson Hills, South Park Township, West Elizabeth and part of Elizabeth Township in Allegheny County plus Finleyville, New Eagle, Nottingham, Union and part of Carroll Township in Washington County.

House District 44:  Mustio versus Scappe

Republican incumbent Representative Mark Mustio of North Fayette is seeking reelection after losing his bid for the GOP nomination for state Senate in the April primary.  Mustio has served eight years in the state House representing the 44th District that includes Aleppo, Ben Avon Heights, Edgeworth, Findlay, Haysville, Kilbuck,  Moon, North Fayette, Ohio, Sewickley, Sewickley Heights, Sewickley Hills and parts of Robinson and Collier.

Democrat Mark Scappe is an engineering consultant from Moon Township and former member of the Moon Area School Board.  The two differ on the issue of Marcellus Shale drilling.  Scappe favors an extraction tax on the drilling companies but Mustio claims that will drive companies away from the state.