The candidates running for the 16th Legislative District seat on Nov. 6 both say their qualifications include their experience as elected officials. Robert F. Matzie of Ambridge, the Democratic incumbent, was elected to the House in 2008, and earlier served as mayor of Ambridge. Republican challenger Kathy Coder, a member of Bellevue Council since 2009, where she was elected twice as president, says she's running for state office because "we need some fresh leadership."
In Allegheny County, the district includes Bell Acres, Bellevue, Crescent, Leet and Leetsdale and parts of Franklin Park and Ross. In Beaver County, the district includes Aliquippa, Ambridge, Baden, Conway, Harmony and part of Economy.
A native of Conway, Mrs. Coder says she knows leadership because for the past 15 years she has owned and operated her own company, Inta-Great, which does leadership development and strategic planning.
She said she first ran for Bellevue Council after attending meetings as a private citizen and taxpayer when she was "shocked at how unprofessional it was. There was not good leadership."
At both the local and state levels, "if you put politics and partisanship aside" things will get done, Mrs. Coder said. She points to her experience working with CONNECT -- Congress of Neighboring Communities. She's the vice president of that group, which she said is "trying to paint a vision" of how to improve the area.
In Mr. Matzie's first legislative term, Democrats had the majority by four, he said. In the current term, Democrats "are the minority by 21. From a pure policy standpoint, it has been difficult standing up for what you believe in."
He does work with legislators from both parties and with Gov. Tom Corbett, he said, noting that Mr. Corbett "asked me to be the lead Democrat" when seeking support for petrochemical tax credits, which Mr. Matzie said is needed to bring a proposed cracker plant to Beaver County. The plant would process natural gas from Marcellus Shale drilling and would be an economic boon to the district, he said.
Mrs. Coder said that "from a business standpoint Pennsylvania is overregulated and overtaxed. I think it impedes growth and progress." When discussing taxing and regulating the natural gas drilling industry, "I think we have to be competitive with what other states do."
Mr. Matzie said that working under a Republican governor, "the state budgets in the last two years have been devastating to my district," and cuts to education have been a special concern.
Mrs. Coder suggests that a "countywide school system could work" and that money would be saved starting with the fact that there would be only one school superintendent for all students in the county. She said that system works well in Georgia, where she used to live.
Asked about vouchers that would allow parents to pick the school their children attend, Mrs. Coder said, "I think parents should have a choice. ... Vouchers would not be my first choice" but she said she would consider vouchers "if that's what it takes" to get students into good schools.
Mr. Matzie said he thinks "vouchers are a bad idea. The beneficiaries of vouchers in the end will be private schools."
On the question of state-owned liquor stores, Mrs. Coder favors privatizing them. Mr. Matzie is opposed, but said the store system could use some "modernizing."
He said he could support some kind of "hybrid" system, such as keeping spirits and wine sales in state stores and beer sold in grocery stores.
Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-722-0087.