This is the first in a series of editorials recommending candidates for nomination in next month's primary. The series will conclude Sunday, May 16, with a recap of Post-Gazette endorsements.
Republicans in the 39th Legislative District who will choose a challenger to incumbent Democrat David Levdansky in the primary should have an easy time of it.
Rick Saccone, 52, of Elizabeth Township, and Shawn Hess, 20, of South Park Township, are competing for the GOP nomination in the district, which includes Clairton, Forward, South Park, Elizabeth Borough, Jefferson Hills, West Elizabeth and part of Elizabeth Township in Allegheny County, plus Nottingham, Union, Finleyville, New Eagle and part of Carroll in Washington County.
Mr. Hess, who will be 21 before the May 18 primary, believes younger candidates should be eligible for state office and he has lobbied for change. State representatives must be 21 and state senators 25. He is a junior at Bethany College majoring in political science and history; he has made educational trips to various countries including Gambia, Senegal, Russia and Spain; and he works for the county parks department in the summer.
During a meeting with Post-Gazette editors, both candidates said the state will have to rely on budget cuts to find the dollars needed for transportation funding, now that Pennsylvania's request to toll Interstate 80 has been rejected. Mr. Hess said money could be saved by limiting each legislator to one district office, while Mr. Saccone said that, based on his work with budgets while on the Elizabeth-Forward School Board, he had no doubt he would find places to cut in the state budget.
Mr. Saccone said he would like to reduce reliance on the property tax for education and, as a first step, provide a degree of property tax protection for elderly homeowners up to a certain income. Mr. Hess said he was fine with how schools are funded now.
Both men call themselves "pro-life" on abortion, with Mr. Hess adding that he is opposed to the death penalty. Mr. Saccone favors capital punishment.
While the younger man's enthusiasm for public service is something to be encouraged, he cannot match Mr. Saccone for knowledge, experience and an understanding of key issues facing state government.
Mr. Saccone is a forthright conservative who advocates smaller government, reduced spending and opposition to state taxes on new gas drilling and restrictions on the rights of gun owners. A retired Air Force captain who spent much of his career as a special agent in a military equivalent to the FBI, he was assigned to South Korea for 13 years and had the rare experience of working in North Korea for one year.
Mr. Saccone holds a doctoral degree in international relations from the University of Pittsburgh and is an assistant professor at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. He took a leave from teaching and from his school board post in 2004 so he could serve in Iraq.
In this race, Republicans cannot do better than Rick Saccone.