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Two First-Time Candidates Vie To Represent House District 44

Kathleen J. Davis
90.5 WESA
Democrat Michelle Knoll (left) and Republican Valerie Gaydos.

Pennsylvania's 44th District is made up of neighborhoods north and west of Pittsburgh, including Moon Township and some prosperous Ohio Valley communities. For the last 15 years, it has been led by Republican Mark Mustio, who decided to retire earlier this year.

Two first-time candidates are running to replace him.

Democrat Michele Knoll is a former teacher who has worked with Pittsburgh Public Schools and also used to be an Avonworth School Board member. She has strong union support, and secured the party nomination after running unopposed in the May primary.

Knoll currently works with very small children -- from birth to 3 years old -- who have developmental delays or disabilities. She said her role as an educator will be a strength, because she's helped families deal with challenges such as learning disabilities, poverty and substance abuse.

"We have very few educators in Harrisburg right now, and I think [having one] would help," Knoll said. "We had legislation where the General Assembly talked about taking sick days away from teachers, arming teachers."

She also backs imposing a severance tax on natural-gas drilling, with revenues earmarked for education.

"That would help us fund our schools in a more sensible way than we are right now," Knoll said. "It would make up for any funding gaps that we have."

Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in the 44th District. Republican Valerie Gaydos bills herself as a moderate voice. She criticizes both parties, and she's given financially to Democrats in the past. However, she is firmly conservative on hot-button issues such as abortion and the Second Amendment. 

While Knoll touts her 35-years history in the district, Gaydos left Pennsylvania in the early 1990s to start an investment firm in Maryland. Gaydos said she travels frequently for her job, but moved back to Pennsylvania in 2010. She still owns a home in Baltimore, which property records identify as her primary address. Gaydos says that information -- which lists her late husband as a co-owner -- is out of date. 

Allegheny County voting records list the Maryland property as a secondary address for absentee ballots, but also show Gaydos typically votes in person in the district.

Gaydos said she left Pennsylvania in the first place because the state lacks tax incentives for startup businesses. If she wins the seat, she wants to help change that.

"I would love to bring a lot of those things that are working in other states and bring them to Pennsylvania," Gaydos said. "I know how Pennsylvania can do better."

Gaydos doesn't support or oppose adding a severance tax to natural gas extraction . She said it's a complicated issue, because Pennsylvania is the only state with an impact fee on the industry.

"Do I believe the oil and gas companies should pay their fair share? Absolutely," Gaydos said. "The question is, how do you calcuate that fair share and who's making that decision?"

Gaydos also supports shrinking Pennsylvania's legislature and adding term limits to lawmakers.

"These jobs were never meant to be a career," she said. "I've had my career, and now it's my opportunity to give back."

Gaydos squeaked through the Republican primary, winning by 26 votes in a four-way race. No matter who wins on Nov. 6, House District 44 will be represented by a woman for the first time. But one area where both candidates agree is that this shouldn't be as notable as it is.

*Story updated on Friday, October 12 at 2:49 p.m. with more context regarding Gaydos' residence.

Kathleen J. Davis covers news about just about anything at WESA. She’s also the primary reporter and producer of WESA’s weekly series Pittsburgh Tech Report. Kathleen originally hails from the great state of Michigan, and is always available to talk about suburban Detroit and Coney Island diners. She lives in Bloomfield.