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Politics & Government

CEO Seeks Democratic Nomination For Vacant PA Senate Seat

Courtesy of Heather Arnet

Women and Girls Foundation CEO Heather Arnet is seeking the Democratic nomination to run in a special election to fill former Sen. Matt Smith’s seat representing Allegheny and Washington counties in the 37th District.

Democratic committee members have yet to schedule a vote to cement Arnet's candidacy, though one is expected in the coming weeks. 

Arnet, 41, of Mt. Lebanon has advocated on the local, state and federal levels for paid sick leave, raising the minimum wage, greater protections for domestic violence victims, equal pay mandates and more. The prospect of jumping from advocacy to candidacy has been humbling, she said.

“You know in some ways perhaps in some ways it was inevitable that being such a strong vocal supporter encouraging so many other women and girls to consider elected office as a future career path that at some point people would encourage me to do so as well,” she said.

Arnet has helmed the Women and Girls Foundation for 12 years, tackling millions in fundraising and garnering support for Pennsylvania women’s health legislation. She also serves as board chair for both the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership at University of Pittsburgh and the Ms. Foundation, a national social justice organization founded by Gloria Steinem and Marlo Thomas. A Carnegie Mellon University graduate, she moved to Pittsburgh in 2000 and previously served as a member of the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Education from 2007 to 2009.

Arnet said that public policy background should lend itself to drumming up political support.

“There are thousands and thousands of bills that get introduced every year to the Legislature, and the difference between a bill that moves out of committee and a bill that stays in committee really has to do with how much community support there is and getting community members involved and just telling their personal stories,” she said.

Arnet successfully lobbied for the 2014 passage of Sarah's Law, written years ago by then-13-year-old Sarah Pesi, that gives victims of harassment, stalking and other behaviors legal recourse regardless of any prior relationship.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Forest Hills) called her “a tireless advocate for our community.”

“She knows how state government works and she will go to the mat for what she knows is right,” he said. “We need more women like that in Harrisburg.”

If chosen, Arnet will face Republican challenger Guy Reschenthaler, who tendered his resignation as a Jefferson Hills district judge upon receiving his party's nomination in the fifth round of voting. He took the judiciary post in 2013.

Megan Sweeney, communications director for the party, said Reschenthaler’s background as a Navy prosecutor resonated with the committee.

Smith resigned his seat last month to become president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. The special election will coincide with the Nov. 3 general election.