Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
An initiative to provide nonpartisan, independent elections journalism for southwestern Pennsylvania.

Robinson launches re-election bid in 37th Senate district, with labor support

Devlin Robinson.
Robinson campaign
Devlin Robinson is seeking a second four-year term in Allegheny County's suburban 37th state Senate district.

Republican State Sen. Devlin Robinson announced his bid for re-election Thursday afternoon, and if that news was widely anticipated, it was accompanied by a somewhat less expected endorsement: The first-term District 37 Senator was endorsed by the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council, an umbrella labor group that includes 33 locals.

Robinson said the endorsement was just piece of evidence that he had “committed myself to the people of the 37th District [and] to bring a voice to Harrisburg and represent there interests there.”

Speaking to WESA shortly before a campaign kickoff event with state House member Valerie Gaydos, Robinson said he was seeking a second four-year term because “there’s still a lot left to do. I’m looking forward to continuing to represent the district.”

The Bridgeville resident grew up in the region, and joined the Marines after graduating form Central Catholic High School. He saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, before returning home to start a medical-supply business.

He then ran for and won the 37th District seat in 2020, besting Democrat Pam Iovino in 2020 after she’d won it in a special election the previous year. The crescent-shaped district connects North Hills and South Hills suburbs by arcing through the airport area, and while long considered a swing district, new boundaries drawn since 2020 have made it friendlier to Republicans.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Stay on top of election news from WESA's political reporters — delivered fresh to your inbox every weekday morning.

Educator and former Jefferson Hills borough council member Nicole Ruscitto declared her bid for the seat earlier this week. Democrats have already begun to paint Robinson as an extremist, saying that he “shares a 98 percent identical voting record with extremist failed gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano.”

But Robinson scoffed at that statistic, saying that it includes procedural votes that have no substantive impact.

“That’s just background noise,” he said. “I’m a very independent legislator. I have always kind of marched to the beat of my own drum.”

Asked for an issue on which he had parted ways with fellow Republicans, Robinson drew a blank. But as WESA reported earlier this week, one conservative advocacy group ranked his record as somewhat less conservative than other Republicans, though like other legislators he votes with his party the vast majority of the time.

And it’s unusual, though not at all unprecedented, for a Republican to draw support from organized labor. While the Building Trades Council backed Robinson’s 2020 rival, incumbent Democrat Pam Iovino, trades unions often skew more conservative than many others. And Robinson has made common cause with them on a couple of key concerns.

Those include a bill intended to prevent contractors from denying workers benefits by misclassifying them as independent contractors. Robinson chairs the Senate’s Labor and industry committee, which has jurisdiction over such questions and which passed the bill with a Robinson-sponsored amendment last fall. (Somewhat more controversially, Robinson also backs a measure that would designate ride-share drivers as independent contractors while creating a benefits fund for them.) Union leaders also credited his work obtaining state grants for projects that put their members to work.

Robinson said that among his proudest achievements was preventing a bid by former Governor Tom Wolf to impose tolls on I-79, which runs through the district. “Every time bureaucrats see a dollar sign, people in our region see a warning sign,” he said in a statement.

But on other issues, Robinson said that he has shown an ability to work across the aisle on a number of matters, including a bill to provide free breast and ovarian cancer screening for women at high risk that was the first bill Gov. Josh Shapiro signed after taking office.

“There’s a lot more collaboration than anybody is hearing about. We work across the aisle, we work with the House, we work with the governor’s office,” he said. “There’s a lot of negotiations behind the scenes that you don’t hear about.”

To be sure, Robinson hasn’t committed to Democratic or labor priorities like raising the state’s minimum wage, which lags that of other states. “I think that the market has set the average wage a whole lot higher than the proposed minimum wage,” he said.But it's something that I'm definitely willing to take a look at.”

On the other hand, he didn’t express interest in changing abortion laws either — an issue that has galvanized voters since a 2022 US Supreme Court ruling denying a constitutional right to an abortion.

“The current law is something that the district has accepted,” Robinson said.

And he said that whatever the issue, he would strive to keep the district’s perspectives in mind.

“For the last four years I have been all over the district,” he said. “I will continue to do so, to make sure that I'm available and, and that I can hear everybody's concerns.”

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.