Signature challenges prompt Rep. Diven to withdraw from May primary

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In the face of a challenge to his nominating petitions, state Rep. Michael Diven, R-Brookline, yesterday officially withdrew from the Republican ballot in the May 16 primary.

But while Mr. Diven's name will not be on the primary ballot, it does not necessarily mean the end of his candidacy for re-election.

Mr. Diven, a former Democrat who turned Republican to make an unsuccessful run for state Senate last year, said he hadn't made up his mind on his next step, but suggested that he was inclined toward an attempt to defend his seat.

"We're still evaluating our options," he said. "Obviously, if I wanted to retire I wouldn't have circulated petitions and sought re-election. The question is, logistically, what decision makes the most sense, but I'm definitely interested in exploring those."

Mr. Diven could compete for the Republican nomination as a write-in candidate. Since there are no other Republican candidates, he would win the nomination if he were to receive at least 300 votes.

He also has the option of running for re-election as an independent in the fall, a process that would require he drop his Republican voter registration and submit 430 signatures from registered voters in the district by Aug. 1.

At this point, Chelsa Wagner, a lawyer who is a member of a prominent political family in the South Hills district, is the only official candidate for the District 22 seat. She won the endorsement of the Democratic Party's committee members in the district and is all but certain to be the party's nominee in the heavily Democratic district.

Mr. Diven's nominating petitions had been challenged on a variety of grounds. His opponents claimed they contained numerous errors in the names of, and information about, the signers, and that in a handful of cases, purported signatures came from people who were deceased.

A hearing on the case had been scheduled for today, but in view of Mr. Diven's withdrawal, Commonwealth Court, in an unsigned order, dismissed the case as moot.

Mr. Diven acknowledged that his withdrawal was a tacit admission his petitions were vulnerable to the legal challenge, but he insisted that whatever flaws they contained were chiefly technical. He insisted that neither he nor any members of his staff would have knowingly submitted false information.

"Some of this is the problems that I experienced in switching to Republican. The group that was always involved in the past in compiling signatures wasn't available to me," he said. "I can tell you, speaking for myself personally, I didn't engage in anything that was fraud or anything of that nature. ... I have always conducted myself within the letter of the law."

Mr. Diven, a former city councilman who was first elected to the Legislature in 2000, characterized the controversy over the petitions as the latest chapter in a long-running feud with the Democratic leadership of the state House.

After his election, Mr. Diven had several public clashes with the Democratic caucus leadership. In 2004, Rep. William DeWeese, the Democratic leader, took the unusual step of supporting Mr. Diven's primary opponent. Mr. Diven won that race, despite financial and logistical support of senior Democrats for his opponent, county Councilman Rich Nerone.

The rift set the stage for the Republican Party's recruitment of Mr. Diven last year as its candidate for the state Senate vacancy created when Jack Wagner became state auditor general. Mr. Wagner is an uncle of Chelsa Wagner. In a high-profile contest marked by unusually heavy spending on both sides, Mr. Diven lost the Senate race to Democrat Wayne Fontana.

"One thing that's important to note ... is that this wasn't some grass-roots challenge," Mr. Diven said of the court case that prompted his withdrawal. "This came from [Democratic leaders] Bill DeWeese and [Rep.] Mike Veon."

The attorney for Mr. Diven's court challengers, three registered Republicans from the 22nd District, did not return a phone call for comment on Mr. Diven's claim.


Michael Diven

Politics Editor James O'Toole can be reached at jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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