Campaign 2012/East: Independent enters race after incumbent wins both party nominations in the 39th District
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State Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, sailed through the May primary, winning the Republican nomination for re-election to her 39th District seat and collecting enough write-in votes to garner a Democratic nomination as well. But she faces competition in the general election from Ron Gazze, a longtime Greensburg dentist and past unsuccessful candidate for state representative and Westmoreland County commissioner.
Mr. Gazze, 62, said he hadn't planned on entering this year's Senate race until he heard that Mrs. Ward received both the Democratic and Republican nominations.
"I don't think that anyone should be running unopposed and representing both parties. I thought the voters should have a choice," Mr. Gazze said.
Mr. Gazze has said one of the biggest differences between himself and Mrs. Ward is that he has turned down donations to his campaign because he wants to be able to make independent decisions if he wins the Senate seat and not to feel beholden to groups that supported his campaign. He said Mrs. Ward accepts campaign contributions, a practice he maintains will make it difficult for her to be without influence when she votes on important issues.
But Mrs. Ward, 56, who is running for her second term, said she has stopped knowingly accepting donations from organizations that could have significant votes coming before the Legislature. For example, she said, she has not taken campaign funding from Highmark since March because of the contention between Highmark and UPMC over an agreement to provide Highmark subscribers with access to UPMC facilities in the future.
But in general, Mrs. Ward said, she does not believe campaign contributions prevent legislators from making fair decisions.
If elected to the Senate, it would be Mr. Gazze's first public office.
Mrs. Ward was a Hempfield supervisor from 2002-2007, serving as chairwoman for the last three years. She was elected Westmoreland County commissioner in 2007. She held that office for several months when she said she was asked by her party to run for Senate when Sen. Bob Regola dropped out of his re-election race after being acquitted of charges related to a neighbor's suicide. She won the Senate seat and took office in January 2009.
Mr. Gazze said, if elected, he would build on the reform movement that started in the Legislature following the midnight pay raises that lawmakers voted for themselves in July 2005. That pay raise prompted a number of incumbents to lose their seats in the following elections and more reform-conscious candidates to win.
Mr. Gazze would like to see term limits instituted, although he did not specify an amount of time he thought was appropriate for a legislator to hold office. He also would like to see pensions and automatic pay raises for legislators eliminated.
"If they want a pay raise, they should have to put it up for a vote to the public," Mr. Gazze said.
He said he also would advocate for a reduction in the size of the state House of Representatives and state Senate. He wants to provide property tax relief to homeowners by increasing sales tax.
In addition to practicing as a dentist in Greensburg since 1975, Mr. Gazze has spent 30 years coaching basketball, soccer and tennis in the Greensburg Salem and Jeannette City school districts and for Pitt Greensburg and Westmoreland County Community College.
Mrs. Ward said she considers herself part of the reform movement of individuals elected after the 2005 pay raise. She said she agrees with Mr. Gazze that term limits should exist for legislators and has sponsored legislation proposing them. She said she does not take per diem payments of about $166 that are permitted for legislators on their days in Harrisburg.
Instead, she said, she submits hotel bills for about $62 per night and mileage from her home in Hempfield to Harrisburg.
"I don't turn in any food receipts because I feel that I would have to eat no matter where I am, and I don't turn in any mileage for anything I do in my district," Mrs. Ward said.
She said her legislative record is a reason to re-elect her and pointed to what she called two significant pieces of legislation she was able to get approved during her first term. One was a bill that limits transportation payments to individuals who receive methadone treatment under Medicaid, requiring them to receive treatment at the clinics closest to their residence. The other is a bill that prevents undocumented immigrants from getting construction jobs on publicly funded projects.
She also has introduced a bill to increase penalties for failure to report child abuse as a result of the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State University, where university officials have been charged with failure to report Mr. Sandusky's abuse of young boys. Mr. Sandusky was sentenced last week to 30 to 60 years in prison on 45 counts involving the sexual abuse of young boys.
Mrs. Ward also used her committee to form a task force to study child abuse and hold hearings across the state. That task force will present its conclusions in December, along with a package of proposed bills.
Kim Ward, Republican; also won Democratic write-in nomination
Education: Respiratory therapy program, Community College of Allegheny County
Occupation: State senator
Family: Husband, Thomas; sons, Tom, Michael and Matthew
Statement: "In the four years I've been in office, I've gotten some really good legislation passed, including my methadone legislation that limits transportation costs to clinics, and the firefighters grant bill that provides funding to volunteer fire companies."
Ron Gazze, Independent
Education: University of Pittsburgh Dental School
Family: Wife, Constance; sons, Ronald and Shannon
Statement: "I have decided to run without any campaign financing at all so I don't owe any allegiance to either party or business. I can be completely independent in my decision-making."
First Published October 18, 2012 4:41 am