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Local Attorney Enters GOP Gubernatorial Race

Pittsburgh-area attorney Jason Richey has announced his bid to be the GOP's gubernatorial nominee in 2022
Jason Richey for Governor
Pittsburgh-area attorney Jason Richey has announced his bid to be the GOP's gubernatorial nominee in 2022

When Republicans choose a gubernatorial nominee next year, western Pennsylvania may have a contender in the ring.

Sewickley attorney Jason Richey has never run for office before, and has not been a notable player in local Republican politics, but he hopes to begin his political career at the top — and as an outsider.

“These problems that I address have existed for a very long time,’ Richey said. “And the politicians from either party have had an opportunity to fix them. And they haven’t … We need an outsider, someone that’s not connected.”

The Republican field is likely to include more familiar names than his: former Congressman and unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate Lou Barletta recently announced his own bid for the governor’s mansion. State Senator Doug Mastriano is talking up his own prospects, as both men vie for the support of former President Donald Trump.

Asked whether he would seek Trump’s backing as well, he said, “I want the support of everyone. … I’m not lost on the fact that there are more Democrats in Pennsylvania than Republicans. We cannot be at each other’s throats.”

The 49-year-old Richey is a partner at K&L Gates who specializes in commercial law. But he touts a boyhood growing up in Aliquippa during the 1980s, as the local steel industry collapsed. Today, he says, the other Republicans who have indicated a desire to run “don’t have an agenda” to address the state’s deepest problems. “They’re not saying how they’re going to fix problems. … We can’t just be about criticizing things. We have to be about proactively finding solutions.”

Richey’s own solutions are laid out in a 12-point “Contract With Pennsylvanians.” The plan is heavy on Republican red-meat proposals like abolishing the state liquor store system and opposing “sanctuary cities” that don’t cooperate with federal agencies on enforcing immigration law. But it does contain some less familiar proposals, like backing an effort to build a statewide high-speed rail network.

While Republicans have called for changes to the state’s voting laws after the 2020 election, Richey favors completely scrapping a still-new vote-by mail system. Though he allows that “Joe Biden is the president,” he added, ““There's a lot of people out there that don't believe in the integrity of our elections and you just cannot ignore that. And I think too many politicians are. And when you have issues like that that can create a division in our country."

“I don't have any reasons to think the results would have been different” without voting by mail, he said, “but 50 days of mail-in balloting clearly allows for harvesting of ballots.”

There is no evidence of such fraudulent activity in the 2020 election, and along with supporting a voter ID requirement, Richey backs adding a second day of voting to the election calendar.

“We do need to have more accessibility to the ballot,” he said. “We have one day and that is way out of step with the rest of the country. And so what I'm proposing is that … it'd turn into a four-day weekend for everyone and and that those days be statewide holidays.”

Meanwhile, Richey said that the state’s tax structure makes it deeply uncompetitive, and that fixing it will require nothing less than abolishing the income tax on individuals and business.

“I believe that the income tax is evil,” he said flatly. “It’s something that we’ve accepted into American society, and I don’t believe it’s acceptable.”

The state’s 3.07 percent income tax and generates between $10 billion and $20 billion a year. It is the state’s largest source of revenue. Richey said he would hope to offset that revenue loss through government spending cuts, and through shifting the burden to sales and other taxes that are also paid by outsiders — without, he says, raising the overall sales tax rate beyond its current 6 percent. But it wasn’t clear how that wold happen.

Richey’s plan also pledges that he will “stop state funding to be used to pay for abortions” — something the law already currently bans. Richey acknowledged that in an interview but said he included the pledge because “it’s important that people know where I stand on that. … Any effort to change the law on that would not meet with approval [if the bill came to] my desk.”

Richey did indicate that he would be willing to change the law to restrict those rights, depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on strict limits in a case from Mississippi.

“There may be opportunities depending on how these cases come out,” Richey said. “I would be supportive as long as it's constitutional."

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.