South Hills Republicans have run Pennsylvania House District 40 since before the 1969 moon landing. But recent liberal voter mobilization prompted by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election has Democrats hoping for a change in their stars.
The 40th District stretches across Bethel Park, Peters Township and Upper St. Clair. The Democratic nominee to represent it is Sharon Guidi, a retired teacher from Peters Township whose campaign emphasizes the importance of fair education spending. She wants to use Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget to fix school funding discrepancies that result from districts' reliance on local property tax.
“[Fair school funding] means that schools get what they need. All of the schools, not just the wealthy schools, but the schools that are urban, that are rural, that maybe don’t have the deep pockets.” Guidi said. “I think that everyone needs a fair shake.”
She also wants to implement universal pre-kindergarten and ensure teachers don’t pay for school supplies out of pocket. Guidi is backed as a “candidate of distinction” by gun-control advocacy group Moms Demand Action, and supports universal background checks and the BeSMART program to teach proper gun storage.
Her Republican opponent Natalie Mihalek is a defense attorney with an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. Mihalek is a Navy veteran, and worked as a prosecutor for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office prior to her state house run.
Mihalek made the opioid epidemic a core campaign component after she encountered babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, in intensive care units. The newborns experience drug withdrawal symptoms due to their mother’s opioid use while pregnant. Mihalek said more elected officials should visit these hospitals and see the effects of the epidemic firsthand.
“If all these guys go and they hold these little babies that are born addicted, we’ll have comprehensive legislation on the floor the following day,” Mihalek said.
She said she wants to expand in-patient addiction treatment facilities, to give patients the opportunity to remove themselves from social circles where they might relapse.
“We would see people just in and out, in and out of the jails, in and out of the justice system, not getting the proper treatment," Mihalek said. "Getting thirty days of outpatient treatment -- that’s not going to help somebody who has an opioid addiction.”
The 40th is home to roughly 62,000 people, per the 2010 census, and is heavily populated by families. Average household incomes range from $50,000 in Bethel Park to $155,000 in Peters Township. But although the two candidates are running for the same seat, they began their political careers in very different places.
Guidi began her political work when her daughter brought her to phone bank for Barack Obama in 2008. After her husband died, she started to see stark income-based discrepancies in quality of life.
“I spent a lot of sleepless nights worrying about how I was going to cut the grass, paint the house and pay for healthcare,” Guidi said. “And when I talk to senior citizens, they’re worried about that, too.”
She was motivated to run after Trump’s 2016 presidential win, and she canvassed for Democratic Congressman Conor Lamb before declaring her own candidacy.
Mihalek joined the US Navy’s nuclear power program after high school, where she was trained as a machinist mate. She kept ship engines running and worked as a nuclear technician in Navy labs. But it was the Girl Scout Gold Award she received as a teen — the highest award a girl scout can receive — that pushed her to run for office.
“Our state representative at the time handed the award to me,” Mihalek said. “I was looking at his pin, and hearing him speak... I was like ‘I’m going to be in his shoes one day.’”
The candidates also differ on taxes. Mihalek wants to lower property taxes for seniors and veterans, while Guidi doesn’t want to do anything that might endanger school funding.
The election is November 6.