For more than nine years, Tom Stevenson, R-Mt. Lebanon, has represented the 42nd District in Harrisburg. While he considers his service to constituents excellent and his voting record impressive, his challengers, both newcomers to politics, say he doesn't have much to show for those years.
The race for the May 16 primary pits Mr. Stevenson against fellow Republicans Mark Harris and Daniel A. Hackett. On Nov. 7, the winner will face Democratic challenger Matthew Smith, who is unopposed.
The district includes Mt. Lebanon, Green Tree, Rosslyn Farms, Thornburg and portions of Scott and Bethel Park.
Both challengers live in Mt. Lebanon and are making their first run for public office. Mr. Harris said he is a traditional Republican while Mr. Hackett classifies himself as more moderate, with decisions made based on the merits rather than on party lines.
Mr. Harris is just about to graduate from college and said his energy, exuberance and ideas will recharge Harrisburg. Mr. Hackett said his maturity and decades of experience analyzing finances and building relationships with people will benefit taxpayers.
Mr. Hackett, 49, is a self-employed financial planner and certified public accountant for Hackett Financial Services. He earned his undergraduate degree from Robert Morris University, where he also received his master's degree in business administration.
He said Mr. Stevenson has been in office too long and his efforts, along with many of his colleagues in the Legislature, are "just something to stick in their legislative updates."
He said his top priority is change, and his goals are reducing the size of the Legislature; lobbyist disclosure, and putting all Legislative compensation changes up for referendum.
Mr. Hackett said he is not taking financial contributions and is financing his campaign himself, for a maximum of $1,500, to be spent mostly on yard signs.
He said voters should choose him over Mr. Harris because Mr. Harris is too young and inexperienced.
"I think my abilities working with people and budgets and figures over the last 20 years give me a leg up," he said.
Mr. Harris, 21, expects to graduate from George Washington University just a few days after election day, with a degree in political science. He is self-employed, the owner of Mark Harris Consulting, which designs Web sites for political and nonprofit groups. He graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in 2003.
He also is affiliated with PACleanSweep, a nonpartisan group trying to oust incumbents from state offices after the legislators voted pay raises for themselves last year.
Mr. Harris has invited Mr. Stevenson to debates but hasn't gotten a bite.
"Not even a response," he said.
He said the legislative pay raise "violated the public trust" and was "egregious, uncalled for and out of line. ... People need representatives they can trust."
He said Mr. Stevenson's support of Growing Greener II, the budget and the legislative pay raise are reasons not to re-elect him. Mr. Harris said voters looking for change should choose him because of his priority of reducing taxes, especially income taxes, property taxes and corporate income taxes.
He conceded some of those taxes would have to be made up elsewhere. He said individual communities should decide where to recoup them, whether through income taxes, sales taxes or other means.
"When it comes down to it, I'm the stronger person to go to Harrisburg and represent the state," he said.
Mr. Harris said he has raised about $60,000 for his campaign so far, with less than $5,000 coming from political action committees.
Mr. Stevenson, 53, is completing his fifth term in office. He said he has the "best constituent outreach service in the area," and cited his expos for seniors, constituent breakfasts, town meetings, "There Ought to be a Law" contests, seminars, business forums and school programs as examples.
Hallmarks of his legislative initiatives have included the hero scholarship bill, where children of firefighters, police, paramedics, and national guardsmen who are killed in the line of duty attend certain Pennsylvania colleges for free. He also said he increased funding for libraries, wrote legislation that provides tax credits for movies that film in the state and his work prevented suburbanites from having to pay commuter taxes to the City of Pittsburgh.
He estimates 15 of his bills have become law.
"My opponents have said that I'm out of touch, that I'm a 'do nothing' legislator," he said. "That shows they're out of touch."
He said he approved Growing Greener II, because it included landslide and flood relief sorely needed in Bethel Park. His support of Gov. Ed Rendell's budget made sure schools remained funded.
"I didn't want Rendell to be able to say, 'The Republicans shut down government,' " he said.
He voted for the legislative pay raise but said he was one of the first ones to give it back. He said so far he's raised about $50,000 for his campaign but that he's still having fund-raisers.
He said he is working on property tax reform but noted it takes a while to right a system that has existed for decades.
As for tax cuts, "I have yet to hear any of my opponents say where the cuts should be made. In essence, it's political rhetoric," he said.
He said he will be debating the other candidates at the Mt. Lebanon Council of Republican Women forum next Thursday at the Mt. Lebanon Municipal building.
"He's blowing this out of proportion to try to get attention. And we just ignore him," Mr. Stevenson said about Mr. Harris's debate challenge.
"I personally believe I have worked very hard for my constituents," he said.
The Republican winner will face Smith, 33, a lawyer from Mt. Lebanon who is unopposed in the primary.
Laura Pace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-851-1867.