Campaign 2012/East: In 55th District, longevity may be factor in race
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A Republican newcomer from Latrobe hopes to unseat a longtime Democratic state representative from Vandergrift, who's running for his 10th consecutive term in the 55th District.
The incumbent may be nearly 20 years his senior, but 33-year-old attorney John Hauser thinks he has what it takes to best 51-year-old Joseph Petrarca in the Nov. 6 election.
"Anyone who's been in a position for 18 years has been comfortable with the position," said Mr. Hauser, who wants to use his business acumen to focus on his chief issue this election: jobs.
"I want to get the economy moving, and we need to get the budget under control."
Elected to the House of Representatives in 1994, Mr. Petrarca is chairman of the House Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee and was appointed to serve on the National Conference of State Legislatures' Transportation Committee.
Both candidates have been knocking on doors in the district, which includes Leechburg in Armstrong County and the Westmoreland County communities of Latrobe, Bell, Derry, Loyalhanna, Unity, Washington, Avonmore, Derry, East Vandergrift, Hyde Park, New Alexandria, Oklahoma, Vandergrift, West Leechburg and Youngstown.
When talking to constituents, Mr. Petrarca touts his record as a state representative and his focus on retaining jobs in Pennsylvania and keeping taxes downs.
"I'm proud that I've never voted for a tax increase," he said.
Mr. Hauser, too, talks about jobs, the economy and restoring transparency in the Legislature.
Both men see transportation and infrastructure as the linchpin of their district.
Mr. Petrarca said he's secured state dollars to fund studies for a passenger rail line that would link Derry to Downtown Pittsburgh, with stops in Latrobe, Greensburg and Monroeville.
Mr. Hauser said he would find funding for the state's ailing bridges and both support the Laurel Highlands Connector project, which would upgrade about 10 miles of the two-lane Route 981 from the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport near Latrobe to Mount Pleasant and has been called the No. 1 transportation project in the county.
An investment in infrastructure would foster an atmosphere that would attract business and create jobs, Mr. Hauser said.
If elected, he wants to see natural gas drilling stations in his district, which would provide for ancillary jobs in piping, extraction and construction.
"That produces a lot of jobs," he said. "These are all good-paying jobs."
Mr. Hauser is accusing his opponent of accepting the midnight pay raise, couched as unvouchered expenses, that lawmakers voted for themselves in July 2005.
"In 2005 I did not vote for the pay raises. Every penny I gave back to state treasury," Mr. Petrarca said, noting it the vote against raises cost him chairmanship of the aviation subcommittee.
But a Post-Gazette article from 2006 names Mr. Petrarca among the legislators that hadn't returned the raise. In 2005, he said he gave the money to charity, as did several others.
The candidates match up on some issues, though.
They agree on reducing the size of the General Assembly, and Mr. Petrarca said he's introduced legislation to that effect. He noted, though, that a reduction shouldn't mean areas like the 55th District have a lesser presence in the statehouse.
"I do not want to see the cities get stronger and everyone else lose representation," he said.
Both believe the education funding stripped in Gov. Tom Corbett's budget should be restored.
Both are staunchly anti-abortion and would support a bill that would require women to receive a trans-vaginal ultrasound before receiving an abortion.
Both also support gun rights. Mr. Petrarca noted his "A-plus" rating from the National Rifle Association, which honors a consistent pro-gun voting record and support of Second Amendment rights.
To be sure, Mr. Petrarca has been known to vote against party lines. In November, for example, he and three other Western Pennsylvania Democrats voted with the majority Republicans in supporting the natural gas drilling bill.
And he describes himself as both a fiscal and social conservative. So why is he a registered Democrat?
"It's never really mattered to me what initial is after my name," he said. "To me, I do this job because of what I think is best for this district."
First Published October 25, 2012 5:15 am