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An initiative to provide nonpartisan, independent elections journalism for southwestern Pennsylvania.

Voter guide to Pennsylvania State House 50th District Republican primary: Cook vs. Waggett

What’s at stake: Political novice Stephanie Waggett is challenging four-term incumbent state Rep. Donald “Bud” Cook for the Republican nomination in the 50th House District. Forty-eight percent of voters in the district are registered with the Republican party; 42 percent are Democrats. No Democrats are running in the primary; although the area is known for its union contingent, many lean right at the ballot box.

The 50th is nestled in Pennsylvania’s southwesternmost corner, bordering Ohio and West Virginia. The region’s economic and population decline remain top concerns.

District map:

Donald "Bud" Cook

State Rep. Donald “Bud” Cook faces a challenger this spring after running unopposed in two of his four primaries (including the last one in 2022) and handily winning the other two. Cook, whose campaign didn’t return responses to the WESA Candidate Survey after agreeing to do so, sits on the state House Agriculture & Rural Affairs, Environmental Resources & Energy as well as Tourism & Economic & Recreational Development committees.

His priority initiatives during the current session include preserving the Cokeburg Dam in Washington County. Environmental regulators first declared the recreational landmark hazardous decades ago; attempts to address safety issues there have since been consistently derailed.

Party: Republican
Education: B.S., West Virginia Wesleyan College
Related experience: Pennsylvania State House, 49th District (2017 – 2022); 50th District (2023 – present); City councilor, Buckhannon, W.Va. (1986 - 1989)
Links: Website | Facebook
Total fundraising (as of 4/8/24):
Total raised (2024): $19,650
(2023 ending cash balance: $18,960)
Total spent (2024): $25,247.80

Further reading:
"‘There is a real problem with how he treats women’: Bartolotta backs primary challenger against SWPA lawmaker" (Stephen Caruso, Pennsylvania Capital-Star)

WESA Candidate Survey
Cook did not respond to the WESA Candidate Survey.

Stephanie Waggett 

Stephanie Waggett is a Republican candidate for the Pennsylvania State House 50th district.
Courtesy campaign
Stephanie Waggett

Waggett, a nurse who previously was a child and youth services caseworker and energy company administrator, says she’s running because she wants more long-term opportunities for her community. “I’m afraid my kids are going to move God knows where and raise their families and I won’t be part of their lives,” says Waggett, the mother of two teenagers. “I thought, … ‘What am I doing to change anything actively?’ This is getting out there and having a hand in doing it.” Waggett says she switched her voter registration from the Democratic party to Republican in January to reflect her conservative values and voting history.

Party: Republican
Place of residence: Carmichaels, Greene County
Education: Associate degree in nursing, Community College of Allegheny County; B.S. Criminal Justice, University of Phoenix
Current occupation: Registered nurse
Related experience: Registered nurse, Mon General Hospital (2020 – present); Fayette Energy Facility plant administrator
Supporters/endorsements: State Sen. Camera Bartolotta; former Greene Co. GOP Chairman Richard Yeager.
Links: Website
Total fundraising (as of 4/8/24):
Total raised (2024): $32,525  
Total spent (2024): $25,682

WESA Candidate Survey

What should be the state legislature's top priority in the next term, and how would you address it? 
To continue to stand for limited government and fiscally sound policies. To safeguard our freedoms while remembering that with them comes responsibilities. To remind all that we believe in the dignity of work and the importance of personal accountability, and that we reject the notion of a nanny state that seeks to dictate every aspect of our lives. To oppose reckless spending and burdensome regulations that stifle the economic growth we need to keep our kids here after they grow up. Instead let's champion policies that promote our businesses and promote entrepreneurship and allow Pennsylvania to prosper, especially in our energy sector. Plus we recognize the importance of strong families.

Pennsylvania’s system for funding public education has been found to violate the state's constitution, and there are perennial complaints about school district property taxes. What approaches do you favor to address those concerns, and what changes, if any, should be made to funding for alternatives to traditional public schools, such as charters and private schools? 
As a product of public schools and as a parent of 2 teenagers, I understand the need to revamp the K-12 education funding formula but I am hesitant to just pump more money into a dysfunctional system. I support school vouchers such as EITC, etc. with appropriate safeguards and transparency measures.

This year, the governor is pressing to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, an issue that may well still be on the table when the winners of this year's election take office. Are you in support of legalization, and if so, who should be allowed to sell marijuana? 
I oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Pennsylvania's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate compact to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, is tied up in court and opposed by many in the energy sector. Should the state participate in RGGI going forward? And what other legislative or regulatory steps, if any, do you support to limit those emissions?
RGGI is an unnecessary tax on PA consumers at a time when we do not need anymore taxes or mandates thrust on us. RGGI is something that should be decided through regular legislative channels, not done by executive mandate. Gov. Wolf was wrong to put us into RGGI and Gov. Shapiro was wrong to appeal the Commonwealth Court decision.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe in 2022, there have been discussions both about limiting abortion access and expanding it. What changes, if any, would you favor to the state's current abortion laws?
I am proudly pro-life and believe we need to have fewer abortions in Pa. I will always look to vote for ways to make PA more pro-life.

Emily Previti is a podcast producer and data journalist, and executive editor and co-creator of Obscured from Kouvenda Media.