Double zero: In the House, two painful non-endorsements

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In two different Allegheny County House districts, Democratic incumbents who voted for the 2005 pay raise are seeking re-election, but have not atoned the way other lawmakers have. Although the Post-Gazette is not able to back their challengers, we cannot recommend election of the incumbents either.

Rep. Tom Petrone, 69, of Crafton Heights is in his 13th term in the 27th District, which includes neighborhoods in Pittsburgh's West End, plus Avalon, Ben Avon, Crafton, Dormont, Emsworth, Glenfield, Ingram, Neville and parts of McKees Rocks and Stowe. His challenger is Bill Ogden, 45, of Crafton, a personal trainer.

Mr. Ogden got into the race because of the pay raise and he's running on a platform pushing term limits and a smaller Legislature. His grasp of other issues is not as strong. When asked whether he would help to alleviate Pittsburgh's financial pressures, he said "personal responsibility" was in order and that the state should try to attract business and fix roads. Mr. Petrone said the city has done much to tighten its belt and that the state needs to help by relieving Pittsburgh's pension fund burden.

While both candidates favor property tax relief, Mr. Ogden said he would also cut taxes for businesses that had "a lot of Pennsylvania employees." He also complained about the county's 1 percent sales tax, the Regional Asset District tax that funds key public attractions, and mistakenly called it temporary. Mr. Petrone supports a ban on indoor workplace smoking, while Mr. Ogden would leave the matter up to individual businesses.

The challenger said he would support a ban on abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned, but Mr. Petrone said he is satisfied with present state law, which permits abortion within certain limits. We don't know what to make of Mr. Petrone's statement, however, because both Life-PAC and Planned Parenthood list him as anti-abortion.

Our confidence in the incumbent is also tested by his response to the pay raise. He voted for it and took it. Then he said he gave money from the raise to two families who lost servicemen in Iraq. After the great public outcry, he voted to repeal it and now says he is paying it back in $100 monthly installments.

Over in the 24th District, 12-term incumbent Joseph Preston is also uninspiring. Democrats in the district that includes the city neighborhoods of East Hills, East Liberty, Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar, Larimer and Homewood, plus Aspinwall and Wilkinsburg, failed to dispatch him in the spring primary.

Mr. Preston, 59, of East Liberty was unapologetic then about voting for the pay raise and keeping it. Today he says he has second thoughts about it, but not enough of them to pay it back.

He is opposed by Todd Elliot Koger, 44, of Wilkinsburg, a law clerk who is a registered Independent and long-time Democratic volunteer. His blurred party affiliation is matched by muddled positions on certain issues.

For instance, he says he'd vote for an indoor smoking ban but quickly adds it's not going to happen. He supports reducing the size of the Legislature, but "I don't think it's practical or will be done." In short, he's not a promising alternative to the incumbent.

Although Rep. Preston is in sync with the editorial board on issues like finding dedicated funding for mass transit, keeping abortion legal and banning indoor workplace smoking, he has failed to make amends for last year's unwarranted pay raise.

We hate to leave voters in the lurch, but the Post-Gazette cannot endorse any of the four candidates in these two districts.


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