Campaign 2012/South: House 39th race repeats 2010
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Voters in the state's 39th House District no will doubt experience deja vu at the polls Nov. 6, when two candidates who were separated by just 151 votes in the last election face off again this year.
Unlike the 2010 general election, though, Republican Rick Saccone, 54, of Elizabeth Township, is now the incumbent, while longtime Democratic legislator David Levdansky, 58, of Forward, is the challenger.
"I had a lot of time to spend in the community, talking to people and sitting back and reflecting on where I've been in life and what I want to do," said Mr. Levdansky of the past two years, in which he has worked as a consultant for an environmental group. "What I learned is that I still have a deep desire to serve people in the community."
The self-analysis and reflection brought on by being shoved out of office by the upstart Mr. Saccone left Mr. Levdansky with some life lessons, he said, including how to be a better listener.
"I was in a fast-paced pressure cooker for 26 years," he said of his tenure in the Legislature. "I needed to look at myself and hear and listen more."
He said he's heard from constituents who voted against him about their anger toward incumbents like himself.
"The message I got was that it was time for change and people were angry," he said.
Mr. Saccone, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, author and professor at Saint Vincent College, capitalized on that sentiment among voters and said he believes he deserves another term in office because of his accomplishments.
"I knocked on 18,000 doors, and people told me what was important to them," Mr. Saccone said, such as gun rights, spending in Harrisburg, drug testing for welfare recipients and a reduction in the size of the state Legislature -- all things that have been accomplished in the past two years, he said.
Both candidates said they were willing to back meaningful property tax reform, although they have different plans.
Mr. Saccone would like to abolish the property tax and stop court-ordered reassessments statewide through a higher sales tax rate, reduced exemptions for school districts and the elimination of loopholes.
Mr. Levdansky believes that plan is unrealistic because it would need to raise nearly $13 billion in replacement revenue.
"It's tantamount to giving voters false hope," said Mr. Levdansky, who instead favors a plan to cut property taxes by 40 to 50 percent for homeowners only. His $3.5 billion plan also would be paid for largely an increased state sales tax rate along with closed loopholes and some casino gaming funds.
Mr. Saccone said Mr. Levdansky's proposal would be far less feasible than his because key provisions would require a constitutional amendment. Such an amendment would require passage through two consecutive legislative sessions and approval through a voter referendum.
If he's re-elected, Mr. Saccone said, he also would continue pushing for reforms in the state employees pension system, which is currently underfunded by $48 billion.
Mr. Saccone, who declined a state pension, wants to move to a defined contribution for pensions rather than the current defined benefit system.
He said he also frequently hears from constituents who are interested in seeing the privatization of state liquor stores and term limits for legislators.
"I'm for it, but you've got to have 102 votes," he said.
Mr. Levdansky is critical of Mr. Saccone for reducing the number of office locations available to the public, especially because the district encompassing much of the South Hills and Mon Valley in Washington and Allegheny counties.
Mr. Saccone said he maintains a main office in Jefferson and office hours in some local municipal buildings. that has saved taxpayer money, he said, because he has fewer staff members and a lower payroll.
"We've said we're going to cut back state government and we have," he said.
Mr. Saccone said in his two years in office, he also has shown voters that he isn't afraid to buck GOP initiatives that conflict with his local constituency, citing his refusal to vote for the state's new Act 13, governing Marcellus Shale gas well drilling in Pennsylvania. Mr. Saccone said he wouldn't support the measure because it stripped the zoning rights of local municipalities.
"I voted against that bill, against my party and my governor and that was not an easy thing," he said.
Mr. Levdansky said he believes the electorate has changed in the past two years.
"The Democratic base is more energetic and engaged this time. It's totally different from two years ago," he said. "The assumption is that change is always better. But some voters are now having buyer's remorse."
Rick Saccone, Republican
Education: Doctorate, international relations, University of Pittsburgh; master's degree, national security affairs, Naval Post Graduate School; master's degree, public administration, University of Oklahoma; bachelor's degree, psychology, Weber State College
Occupation: State representative; professor of political science, Saint Vincent College; retired U.S. Air Force officer; author
Family: Wife, Yong; sons, Nick and Matthew
Statement: "I have proven experience cutting taxes, passing balanced budgets on time with no tax increases, stiffening penalties for criminals, protecting Second Amendment rights, promoting jobs and business in Pennsylvania, passing tort reform and passing legislation to shrink the Legislature. My record in my first two years in office is solid. I am leading the charge for property tax reform, which is the No. 1 issue among citizens."
David Levdansky, Democrat
Education: Master's degree, economics, Notre Dame; bachelor's degrees, labor studies and political science, Penn State University
Occupation: Government administration professional
Family: Sons, Shane, Timothy and Joseph
Statement: "I have a demonstrated record of leadership working to protect taxpayers. I've stood up to party bosses and special interests to protect the public interest. As a public servant, I have proposed measures and led efforts to reform state government to protect and strengthen the public interest."
First Published October 18, 2012 5:14 am