For state Senate: Rep. Matt Smith is ready to take a bigger role

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Voters who will choose a successor to former state Sen. John Pippy on Nov. 6 probably should don hip-waders before they start slogging through the muck that this campaign has produced.

Fresh off a Republican primary in which he was the object of a new low in negative advertising, D. Raja, the Mt. Lebanon business owner and unsuccessful candidate for Allegheny County executive, kicked off the dirty campaigning this time, with television commercials that stretch the truth to malign the Democrat, state Rep. Matt Smith.

We'd say turnabout is fair play, but Mr. Smith wasn't the opponent who threw the mud at Mr. Raja. That was state Rep. Mark Mustio, who ran against Mr. Raja for the Republican nomination in the spring.

Not to worry. After watching Mr. Raja's attack ads run for weeks, Mr. Smith has fired back with his own shot against the Republican, using grainy photos and raising questions about how many jobs Mr. Raja's software firm outsources to other nations and how he treats his employees.

Mr. Raja wins the mudslinging contest. The most egregious ad is one that says Mr. Smith voted to raise taxes $1 million for every day he's been in office. When Post-Gazette editors first asked Mr. Raja to explain the math behind his assertion, he mentioned an increase in the state cigarette tax but struggled and failed to come up with other examples. Later in the day, he emailed documentation.

It holds Mr. Smith accountable for raising the cigarette tax, backing a tax on small cigars and delaying the phase-out of the capital stock and franchise tax in 2009, which is fair, but it's important to point out that the vote that covered them all was nearly unanimous and resolved a stalemate that had left the state without a budget for 101 days.

Mr. Raja goes way too far, though, when he adds into the equation local taxes that were imposed after the Legislature, including Mr. Smith, gave municipal officials the authority to consider them. That means Mr. Raja tries to blame Mr. Smith for increases in the Pittsburgh parking tax, Allegheny County's drink and car rental taxes, plus hotel taxes in Lackawanna and Adams counties. His chart even includes votes on measures that were not enacted, including the failed Marcellus Shale extraction tax.

Does anybody here want to talk issues? In a meeting with Post-Gazette editors, Mr. Raja was vague on some and unaware of others, a characteristic we have noted in his prior campaigns, too. While the obviously intelligent Mr. Raja no doubt could learn the ropes, it is surprising that he has not delved more deeply into important issues pending in Harrisburg.

For anyone interested in specifics, there are key differences between these two Mt. Lebanon residents.

Mr. Smith, 40, would vote to raise vehicle registration and driver's license fees to fund much-needed transportation repairs in the state; Mr. Raja would do so only as a last resort.

Mr. Raja, 46, favors tuition vouchers that would send taxpayer dollars to private schools; Mr. Smith does not.

Where Mr. Smith supported the gas severance tax on Marcellus Shale drilling, Mr. Raja is satisfied with the lower-cost impact fees that were enacted.

On gun control, both men oppose legislation that would require owners to report lost or stolen weapons. Mr. Smith would close the loophole that allows Pennsylvanians to acquire gun licenses through the state of Florida; Mr. Raja was not aware of it.

Where Mr. Smith vehemently opposes attempts to require women seeking abortions to undergo ultrasound exams, Mr. Raja would not object.

Mr. Raja relies on inflammatory advertising and hasn't done enough homework to represent the 37th Senate District, which stretches from northern Allegheny County communities along the Ohio River, through the Pittsburgh International Airport corridor and into the South Hills, including Peters in Washington County.

The Post-Gazette endorses Matt Smith, who has ably represented his House district for three terms and is prepared to advance to a larger role in the Senate.

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