Most voters in the 20th Legislative District have the chance to vote twice in the upcoming primary, and the Post-Gazette urges Democrats to split their votes between two candidates.
The unusual situation presents itself because Democrat Don Walko, who represented the district since 1995, resigned after winning election to the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court last fall. Democratic voters will nominate one of four candidates to run for a two-year term, while Republicans have an unopposed contender. On the same ballot, though, a special election will be conducted to temporarily fill the seat and, in that contest, the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties have put forth nominees.
The 20th District includes city neighborhoods Troy Hill, Lawrenceville, the Strip District, Spring Hill, Observatory Hill, Brighton Heights and the borough of West View and parts of Ross and Reserve.
Let's first take the Democratic primary, where there is a strong group of candidates, each well-informed and well-spoken during a meeting with Post-Gazette editors, but with some real differences on the issues.
The Democrats are: Adam Ravenstahl, 25, of Summer Hill, a business analyst with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the younger brother of Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl; Mark Purcell, 63, of Ross, who served as a township commissioner for 20 years and is on leave as chief of staff for state Rep. Bill Kortz; Tim Tuinstra, 39, of Observatory Hill, a former state auditor who was laid off due to staff reductions and a community activist; and Dan Keller, 49, of Brighton Heights, a mortgage broker, Alcosan board member and former city planning commissioner.
Mr. Ravenstahl has a leg up on the competition because he was endorsed by the local Democratic committee for the seat once held by his grandfather. He believes the property tax system is unfair and that Pennsylvania needs a statewide rather than county-based assessment system. When it comes to paying for state services, he says he's willing to consider but not yet committed to selling off the state liquor stores and the turnpike, or licensing video poker machines in bars; he thinks the state should set auto registration fees based on the value of vehicles, reasoning that lower-income families are not purchasing high-priced Jaguars.
Mr. Purcell has more government experience than the other candidates, and he believes the Legislature should be a part-time body with members limited to two terms. He sees no need to reduce the number of representatives and senators. He would address the looming public pension crisis by stretching out the obligation for a longer period of time (and adding to the state's debt). Also problematic was his suggestion that all interstate highways in Pennsylvania be tolled to raise money for their maintenance.
Mr. Tuinstra's work in the auditor general's office frames his proposals for resolving state problems. He believes performance audits would show that too many tax breaks granted to economic development projects have not generated the job growth they promised. He would reduce the size of the Legislature and penalize members if they are late in passing a budget, but he believes the state liquor system has been improved and should remain in public hands.
Mr. Keller comes to this race with a refreshing belief that government can do some things right. He points to the special education services provided to his son, now 21, as an example of how properly funded public-sector programs can operate successfully. For revenue, he points to "low-hanging fruit" including enacting a tax on smokeless tobacco, closing the Delaware corporate tax loophole, rewarding merchants who pay their sales taxes on time and selling both the liquor monopoly and the turnpike.
His realistic view that elected officials in Harrisburg must pick and choose their spots, his experience as a business owner and his work on public bodies as well as the Brighton Heights Citizens Federation give Mr. Keller an advantage over his opponents. The Post-Gazette endorses Dan Keller for the Democratic nomination.
However, Mr. Keller is not a candidate in the special election. In that race, voters must choose from three nominees: the Democrat, Mr. Ravenstahl; Republican Alex Dubart, 55, a substitute teacher from Reserve; and Libertarian Daryl Putman, 29, of Bloomfield, an information technologist at the University of Pittsburgh.
Ms. Dubart, who faces an uphill race in the district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 4 to 1, said what separates her from other candidates is a pledge not to raise taxes. Her website features links to conservative organizations and media sites and some eye-popping bumper stickers, but she said opponents have mischaracterized her as anti-union. Mr. Putman said he is in the race primarily so voters will be aware the Libertarian Party is available as an alternative to the two major political parties.
In this matchup, Mr. Ravenstahl has the best understanding of how to serve voters in the 20th District. In the special election, the Post-Gazette endorses Adam Ravenstahl.