Campaign 2013/ Washington County: GOP discounts registration edge in local races

Party sees opportunity to take Washington County row offices long held by Democrats

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Voters in the Nov. 5 general election can expect to see several new names on the ballot in Washington County, while new voter identification requirements remain on hold for now.

County elections director Larry Spahr said poll workers have been instructed to request identification from voters, though voters do not need to present an ID to vote.

Those who don't will be given a document from the Pennsylvania Department of State detailing the ongoing legal battle over voter ID requirements.

"Everybody has to be asked for an ID," Mr. Spahr said. "If they fail to produce one, don't have one or object to the question, they must be given a flyer."

Whether and when the Voter ID law will be fully in effect for future elections is not certain and is the subject of litigation, according to the State Department.

The only voters who must produce identification are those who are voting at a polling place for the first time, Mr. Spahr said. Acceptable forms of identification include a driver's license or PennDOT ID card, a U.S. passport, student ID, and other forms listed at www.votespa.com.

Buoyed by an increase in voter registration and the two past presidential elections, in which county voters sided with the GOP, the county Republican Party has fielded two candidates for county row offices.

They include Peters businesswoman Angela Carrier, who is seeking to unseat longtime county Controller Mike Namie, and Nancy Carr of Washington, who is challenging incumbent Recorder of Deeds Debbie Bardella.

Party Chairman Bill Merrell said he believes the challengers put forth by his party have a good chance at winning.

"We won't put in placeholders," he said of candidates with little chance of success. "We are putting in people who are qualified and capable to do the job."

Incumbents who have been in office for a long time tend to get comfortable in those positions, Mr. Merrell said.

"I think it's good to have capable people challenging those seats."

Just about all of the county row offices are held by Democrats, with a few exceptions, and that party has traditionally enjoyed a voter registration edge of about 2-1 until recent years, when the gap has narrowed to about 1.4-1 for Democrats.

Mr. Merrell said the GOP has also been working hard to fill local seats and to keep attracting qualified candidates for bigger races.

Controller race

Ms. Carrier, 44, operates a travel agency from her home and has not held elected office previously.

"I think it's a trust factor," she said of her decision to run. "I like holding people accountable and I'm very candid."

She said she was approached by party officials and asked to run for the seat, which is responsible for processing payroll and accounts payable, along with conducting audits and financial oversight of county programs and departments.

Ms. Carrier, who graduated in 1991 from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a degree in mass media and communications, said she feels she would be a good fit for the office.

"I've volunteered to manage money for charity groups," she said. "Being responsible for other people's money isn't new for me."

An advocate for international adoptions, Ms. Carrier has four adopted children -- two 8-year-old girls and two 12-year-old boys from Kazakhstan.

If elected, Ms. Carrier said she would seek more transparency in the office, including making more information available online. She also would use weekly email blasts, social media, and other forms of technology to keep taxpayers informed.

She said she also would advocate the use of natural gas impact funds and royalties to supplement, offset or replace tax increases for seniors as a result of an ongoing property reassessment in the county. Ms. Carrier said she understood that it isn't the job of the controller to make such recommendations or decisions, but said she would lobby county commissioners for the change.

"I think they deserve a break," she said of seniors.

Ms. Carrier said she and Ms. Carr have been hitting the campaign trail together and were grateful for all of the support they found.

"We've been so well received," Ms. Carrier said. "We want to bring new energy and new perspective in Washington County."

Mr. Namie, 49, of Canton, a Democrat, has been in office for 12 years, and served as deputy controller for 11 years before that.

He said his office has been recognized as "one of the best controller's offices in the state," by the Pennsylvania State Association of County Controllers, where he has served in multiple offices, including as president.

"I think that when I came in as deputy controller, I brought the ideas and practices of the for-profit world into the county controller's office," said Mr. Namie, a 1986 graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, where he earned a degree in business administration.

Under federal and state law, the controller's office is required to submit annual audits.

"[In audits, we] have been given the most favorable opinion under those guidelines," while he has been in office, Mr. Namie said.

Mr. Namie said he has been a "watchdog of taxpayer dollars" in his three terms.

"I think my record proves that I'm 100 percent willing to make the tough, correct decisions for the people of Washington County," he said.

Mr. Namie said his office is also transparent, and has posted budgets and audits online for the past several years. His office also spends and invests money wisely, he said.

"During my tenure as county controller, I have finished under budget every year," Mr. Namie said. "We have returned almost $300,000 to the county general fund in that time."

Investment choices by his office also resulted in the county's pension fund placing in the top 5 percent of public pension funds in the country.

Mr. Namie and his wife, Cindy, have two children, ages 16 and 20.

Recorder of deeds

Ms. Carr, 53, of Washington, is challenging incumbent Democrat Debbie Bardella, who has been in the office for 16 years.

Ms. Carr said her platform issues include more transparency in the office, improved technology, lowered spending and improved customer service.

She also takes issue with Ms. Bardella's dual position as the director of the combined county tax assessment and tax claims office.

"She gives a third of her time to the recorder of deeds," Ms. Carr said. "But she was elected to be full time. She volunteered for those positions."

Ms. Bardella was appointed by the county commissioners in 2005 to head the tax departments and said it doesn't mean she spends a third of her time in the recorder's office.

"I'm here everyday at 7 a.m. and we open at 9 a.m.," said Ms. Bardella of the recorder's office. "I spend a lot of time here. I do everything that I did before. We have staff in both offices. I administer; that's what we do in these jobs. It's not a problem."

Ms. Carr declined to offer specific ideas for increasing transparency and technology while spending less, but said ideally she would like to make the office more user-friendly for the public through a website that could access county records.

Doing so "would absolutely" improve customer service as well, said Ms. Carr, the mother of two grown daughters and grandmother of two.

Ms. Carr works as a dispatcher for the Allegheny County Airport Authority at the Pittsburgh International Airport and ran unsuccessfully for Washington mayor two years ago.

Ms. Bardella, 58, of Speers, is seeking her fifth term in the office --the only place she's ever worked.

She began working in the department as a clerk right after high school in 1972. Over the years, she was promoted, eventually to deputy, when she ran for office.

"I grew up in it," she said. "I rose up through the ranks."

Over the years, the office has been improved through numerous advances, especially in technology, Ms. Bardella said.

Her staff has scanned 5,000 deed and mortgage books dating to 1781 --the oldest records available electronically in the state, she said.

"It's a lot of work, but it's well worth it," she said.

She introduced "e-filing" in the recorder's office, Ms. Bardella said, and made the office a one-stop shop for people seeking to file deeds or mortgages.

"We've simplified the process," she said. "We can easily record documents by scanning right at the counter," she said.

Also running for re-election is Sheriff Sam Romano, who has no Republican challenger.

Judicial nominees Michael Lucas and Valarie Costanzo were nominated by each party and likely will both be elected to fill two empty slots on the county Common Pleas Court, barring an unforeseen event.

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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