On Tuesday, voters in the Mon Valley will choose a new representative for Pennsylvania’s 35th Legislative District. Democrat Austin Davis, an aide to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, is competing against Republican Fawn Walker Montgomery, a former member of the McKeesport City Council.
Lifelong residents of the Mon Valley, Davis, 28, and Walker Montgomery, 38, have emphasized jobs and public safety as top priorities. They both see a need for more state and federal funding to make progress in these areas.
Walker Montgomery said she confronted this need throughout her two terms on the McKeesport City Council, especially in regard to gang- and drug-related crime. With more support from the state, local law enforcement could invest in witness protection programs and solve more crimes, Montgomery said.
Reducing crime, she added, will help her district attract more business and, thus, create more jobs.
Both candidates said they would encourage economic development through public-private partnerships, a strategy they believe has been effective in other parts of the region.
“While Pittsburgh has gone through this renaissance and this boom regionally,” he explained. “we’ve seen jobs created in different parts of our county, but not in Mon Valley.”
Davis and Walker Montgomery both support expanded Marcellus shale drilling and related industry, despite potential environmental hazards.
“We can make sure the industry is regulated and safe for our communities,” Davis said. “But ultimately, we’ve got to create jobs for people.”
The clearest difference between the two candidates concerns the Port Authority’s bus rapid transit, or BRT, plan, which would speed up the county’s bus service but also cut the number of trips to and from the Mon Valley.
Davis supports the plan, but Walker Montgomery is opposed.
“We barely have transportation to get out of the 35th District as it is now,” Walker Montgomery said. “If you cut our routes and then you make us pay more to get a transfer, those are drastic barriers that are hard for us to overcome.”
Davis says the plan is a necessary tradeoff forced by cuts to transportation funding.
“Quite frankly, we’re put in this position because of Republicans in the legislature and their refusal to fund mass transit in urban areas,” Davis said. “They’ve put us in a position where we have to pick and choose.”
Davis indicated he would support increased funding for public transit as a state legislator.
While Davis has never run for legislative office before, Walker Montgomery ran for the state House in 2016. She received 38 percent of the vote, not enough to defeat the Democratic incumbent Marc Gergely.
Gergely resigned from the state House last November after pleading guilty to participating in a gambling machine ring. The special election Tuesday is meant to fill his seat.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesday.