Election 2012/East: State legislators stay put in House races

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Here are the winners in some state races of interest to residents of the eastern suburbs. More election coverage appears elsewhere in today's newspaper. All results are unofficial.

State Senate 39th District

Incumbent Republican Kim Ward of Hempfield had no problem besting Greensburg dentist Ronald Gazze, who ran as an Independent.

Ms. Ward, 56, won handily with 88,833 votes -- 87 percent of the vote -- to Mr. Gazze's 13,254. She will return to Harrisburg for her second term. She was previously a Hempfield supervisor and head of Westmoreland County Republicans.

Tuesday's defeat was the third such loss for Mr. Gazze, 62, who previously waged unsuccessful Independent campaigns for Westmoreland County commissioner in November 2011 and state representative from the 57th District in 2010.

Mr. Gazze, who is a basketball, soccer and tennis coach at several schools in Westmoreland County, said he entered the Senate race to give voters a choice. In the primary, Ms. Ward won both GOP and Democratic nominations.

On the campaign trail, both candidates talked about reform in Harrisburg, a term that became popular after the midnight pay raises that lawmakers voted themselves in July 2005. Mr. Gazze said he would work to eliminate pensions and automatic pay raises for lawmakers. Ms. Ward said she is part of the new wave of lawmakers who followed the pay raise controversy.

She and Mr. Gazze agree term limits for legislators are needed.

Ms. Ward has introduced a bill to increase penalties for failure to report child abuse and has formed a task force to study the issue in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. That task force presents its findings next month, along with a package of proposed bills.

Neither Ms. Ward nor Mr. Gazze could be reached for comment Wednesday.

The Senate district covers Arona, Derry Borough, Derry Township, East Huntingdon, Greensburg, Hempfield, Irwin, Jeannette, Latrobe, Manor, Mount Pleasant Borough, Mt. Pleasant Township, New Alexander, New Stanton, North Belle Vernon, North Huntingdon, North Irwin, Penn Borough, Penn Township, Rostraver, Sewickley, South Greensburg, South Huntingdon, Southwest Greensburg, Sutersville, Unity, West Newton, Youngstown and Youngwood.

-- Virginia Kopas Joe

State House 25th District

Voters chose 30 years of experience from incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Markosek, 62, of Monroeville, over a new name in his Republican challenger, Mike Doyle, 47, of Plum, who serves as Plum council president and works as the branch manager of an insurance company.

Mr. Markosek's tally was 15,272, or 54.8 percent of the vote to Mr. Doyle's 12,575.

Mr. Doyle said he decided to run for the House seat to fix a "broken" Harrisburg.

Mr. Markosek, who once served as chairman of the Transportation Committee and is now the Democratic leader on the Appropriations Committee, sponsored a ban on text messaging while driving that took effect in March. Mr. Doyle said last month that he would have opposed legislation like Mr. Markosek's texting-while-driving ban, saying he's not in favor of legislating common sense.

Tuesday's vote means Mr. Markosek will continue to hold the job he's held since 1983.

The 25th district is made up of Monroeville, Trafford, Pitcairn, Wall and parts of Murrysville, Plum and North Versailles.

-- Annie Siebert

State House 32nd District

In the race between incumbent Democratic Rep. Tony DeLuca, 73, of Verona, and Republican lawyer Lawrence Paladin, 57, of Penn Hills, voters stuck with the 30-year incumbent.

Mr. DeLuca received 20,724 votes to Mr. Paladin's 6,926.

Mr. DeLuca told the Post-Gazette in October that he has "unfinished business" in the state House, including creating jobs and reducing the tax burden in his district.

He also listed job creation and improved education, health care coverage and mass transit among his priorities.

While Plum is a growing bedroom community, Penn Hills faces the same issues as many older suburbs and river towns in the region: population loss, decline in tax base and a high percentage of senior citizens who can't pay higher property taxes.

The community once had more than 62,000 people; the population now is about 44,000.

Mr. Paladin also had said he'd like to reduce property taxes, but favored swapping property taxes in Penn Hills and Verona for a hike in sales and income taxes.

Mr. DeLuca said that's not enough to offset the loss of property taxes, though he favors freezing property taxes for residents over age 65. The district is made up of Penn Hills, Verona, Blawnox and part of Plum.

-- Annie Siebert

State House 33rd District

For state Rep. Frank Dermody, the House party leader, the next two-year term of office representing the constituents of the 33rd District will be about the ongoing battle with Gov. Tom Corbett over what Mr. Dermody calls the "most critical" issues: public education and transportation.

"We have a constitutional responsibility to provide a public education and the government is the entity to take care of the issues of education and transportation. These are our key functions,'' Mr. Dermody declared yesterday morning, fresh from a Tuesday victory over Republican opponent Gerry Vaerewyck, 50, a West Deer supervisor, and an engineer and businessman.

"The top priorities will be the priorities we've had with this governor for the past two years. We need to make sure we properly fund our schools so kids get the education they deserve and we have to address our roads, bridges and transit to make sure our transportation system works. A viable transit system is needed to compete for business and jobs,'' he said. "And our billion-dollar gutting of the education system has resulted in 17,000 layoffs, activity fees, higher property taxes, larger class sizes and kids and schools suffering. We need to make sure the resources they need are coming from Harrisburg.''

Mr. Dermondy was previously an assistant public defender, an assistant district attorney and a district judge.

Mr. Vaerewyck couldn't be reached for comment.

Vote tally: Dr. Dermody, 15,249; Mr. Vaerewyck, 10,516.

The 33rd District consists of East Deer, Fawn, Frazer, Harmar, Harrison, Indiana, Springdale and West Deer and Brackenridge, Cheswick, Oakmont, part of Plum, Springdale and Tarentum. School districts include Allegheny Valley, Deer Lakes, Fox Chapel, Highlands, Plum, and Riverview.

-- Karen Kane

State House 54th District

In the race between incumbent Republican Rep. Eli Evankovich, 29, of Murrysville, and his Democratic challenger, Patrick Leyland, 35, of Allegheny Township, Mr. Evankovich bested his challenger, winning more than 65 percent of the vote.

The vote was 17,667 for Mr. Evankovich and 9,259 for Mr. Leyland.

Mr. Evankovich ran for the first time in 2010 and unseated Democratic incumbent John Pallone, who had represented the district since 1997. Mr. Leyland claimed he has more legislative experience than Mr. Evankovich because he served 12 years on Kiski Area school board.

Voters thought otherwise, choosing to send the relatively new representative back to the House for another term. Mr. Evankovich received nearly 16,000 votes compared with just over 8,000 votes for Mr. Leyland.

In Westmoreland County, the 54th district includes Arnold, Lower Burrell, New Kensington, Export, Upper Burrell, parts of Allegheny Township, Murrysville, and Penn Township. It also includes Bethel, Cadogan, Gilpin and Parks in Armstrong County.

-- Annie Siebert

State House 55th District

John Hauser, a Republican newcomer from Latrobe was unable to uproot Joseph Petrarca, longtime Democratic state representative from Vandergrift, who was running for his 10th consecutive term.

Mr. Petrarca won with 13,258 votes to Mr. Hauser's 10,297.

Elected to the House of Representatives in 1994, the 51-year-old incumbent is chairman of the House Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee and was appointed to serve on the National Conference of State Legislatures' Transportation Committee.

During the campaign, Mr. Petrarca touted his record, especially his focus on retaining jobs in Pennsylvania and keeping taxes downs.

Both he and Mr. Hauser, a 33-year-old attorney, knocked on doors in the district, which includes Leechburg in Armstrong County and several Westmoreland County communities.

"Certainly, I would have hoped for a different result," Mr. Hauser said Wednesday. "But I'm proud of the campaign we ran. We told the truth throughout the campaign, and all my workers worked incredibly hard."

For now, it's back to work. "It's too early to say what I'm going to do," he said.

Both candidates agreed on the importance of funding transportation in the district and reducing the size of the General Assembly. Mr. Petrarca said he's introduced legislation to accomplish the latter. In an earlier interview, he said a reduction shouldn't mean areas like the 55th District have less representation in the state House.

"I do not want to see the cities get stronger and everyone else lose representation."

-- Molly Born

State House 56th District

Incumbent Republican George Dunbar of Penn Township easily won a second term after a race with political newcomer, Democrat Ray "Bud" Geissler of Irwin.

Mr. Dunbar garnered 16,616 votes to Mr. Geissler's 12,038.

Voters were apparently not swayed by news reports about a suit recently filed that involved a firm Mr. Dunbar once worked for. Last month his name surfaced in a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general accusing a McKeesport company of violating requirements to use American-made steel in state funded projects. Mr. Dunbar, former CEO for the company, Ryco Inc., was mentioned in the suit, but was not accused. Mr. Dunbar said he was not closely involved in day-to-day operations while at the company.

Mr. Dunbar, 52, is a certified public accountant, who ran on the platform of fiscal responsibility and Wednesday said voters ''want more of the same.'' In his first term he refused a state paid car and per diems. [He is reimbursed for mileage to and from Harrisburg and overnight hotel stays while the House is in session] . He was also successful in sponsoring a bill giving counties the ability to get rid of the elected office of jury commissioner.

Wednesday Mr. Dunbar said the services he offers at his three constituent offices [on Route 130 in Penn Township, on Route 30 in North Huntingdon and at Jeannette public library building] also helped his victory, which was celebrated Tuesday night at Teddy's restaurant in North Huntingdon.

He was previously a Penn Township commissioner and was once chairman of the Westmoreland Republican Committee. Mr. Dunbar first won the seat in a 2010 upset over seven-term Democrat Jim Casorio of Irwin. The win gave the GOP the 56th District seat for the first time in decades.

Mr. Geissler, 41, who operates a tour service for students, said he made his first run for public office because he felt the "district lost its voice" during the Dunbar years.

Both men went door to door in the district emphasizing their mostly opposing views on issues such as education funding [Mr. Geissler favors more state aid] and privatizing state liquor stores [Mr. Dunbar would privatize, Mr. Geissler would not]

Mr. Geissler said Wednesday that he would not rule out another try for public office and that he loved the experience and was moved by the support.

The 56th District includes the communities of Irwin, North Irwin, Jeannette, Penn Borough and most of North Huntingdon and Penn townships.

-- Virginia Kopas Joe

State House 57th District

Incumbent Republican lawyer Tim Krieger of Delmont easily won a third term Tuesday running against political newcomer, Democrat A. J. Gales of Youngwood who campaigned heavily on his military background.

Mr. Krieger had 16,441 votes to Mr. Gales' 9,197.

Wednesday Mr. Krieger attributed his victory to the appeal of his ''common sense'' approach to government and that "I follow up on what I say.''

A victory party at Lakeview Lounge in Hempfield attended by more than 100 supporters followed Mr. Krieger's victory.

Mr. Gales, 27, attends Pitt-Greensburg on the Post 9/11 GI Bill following tours in Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. He is a military police platoon commander with the Reserves and helps on his family's farm.

Just as their resumes differ, the candidates had different positions on two big issues: the need for a natural gas extraction tax and ways to provide more funding for roads.

In earlier interviews, Mr. Krieger said he opposes an extraction levy, saying Pennsylvania ranks 47th among the 50 states in the taxes and regulations it imposes on business. Mr. Gales thought the tax would be fair compensation for a "Pennsylvania resource'' and said a portion of that money could reduce property taxes for seniors and create a "rainy day fund" for emergencies.

Both men believed the authority to regulate where natural-gas drilling could be done should remain with municipalities.

Mr. Krieger said money to improve infrastructure could be found by reducing fraud in food-stamp and welfare programs and by reducing the size of the Legislature.

Mr. Gales said infrastructure improvement was a priority but any new gasoline taxes or driver's license fees to fund it should not be permanent.

Mr. Gales could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The 57th district includes Delmont, Greensburg, Hunker, New Stanton, Salem Township, South Greensburg, Southwest Greensburg, Youngwood and parts of Hempfield and Unity.

-- Virginia Kopas Joe

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