Four tussle for Pennsylvania House seats in 2 districts
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If you're seeking a haven from polarized politics, stop in Pittsburgh's southern neighborhoods. There the Democrat and the Republican running for a state House seat want to fund education and transit, let localities curb gas drilling, reassess property regularly and allow same-sex marriage.
If you prefer stark choices, go north and find a stolid Democrat defending his House seat against a Constitution Party candidate who wants to abolish property taxes, privatize the state stores and make public transit sink or swim based on ridership.
Democrats Erin Molchany of Mount Washington and incumbent Adam Ravenstahl of Summer Hill are the clear favorites, based on their party's registration edges and history of victories in their city-plus-suburbs districts. Challengers Chris Cratsley of Overbrook and Jim Barr of West View are underfunded and counting on hard work and an unsettled political climate to boost their chances.
When former Rep. Chelsa Wagner became Allegheny County controller in January, she left the 22nd District House seat empty. Democrat Marty Schmotzer defeated Mr. Cratsley in a special election to fill the seat for the rest of this year but lost to Ms. Molchany in the primary. Mr. Cratsley won the Republican primary.
Mr. Cratsley isn't running as a typical Republican, avoiding calls for privatization and budget cuts. "Being in the city, you have a different scope on how things work," he said in an interview with the Post-Gazette's editorial board.
What if Republican leadership doesn't like his centrist approach? "Not one of them will help me at all in my campaign," Mr. Cratsley said. "I won't owe them anything when I go into office."
Mr. Cratsley, 31, is a client service liaison at the Bank of New York Mellon and married father of one with another child on the way. He's a Republican in part because he's against abortion with some exceptions. But he's not doctrinaire, viewing any restriction on marriage as an unwarranted exception to a person's right to enter contracts.
Ms. Molchany, 35, formerly director of the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project, also supports what she calls "marriage equality," and opposes restrictions on abortion. Her priorities are to keep transit strong and restore school funding.
Like Mr. Cratsley, Ms. Molchany opposes vouchers for private school education. The two differ subtly, though, on the boom in public charter schools that has brought howls from traditional schools. While Mr. Cratsley would encourage more independent charter schools, Ms. Molchany wants the public to get a better look at how charters spend their money and educate students.
Mr. Cratsley would vote for privatization of wine and spirits sales. Ms. Molchany would not, because she doesn't want the state to lose the revenue, nor the clerks to lose their jobs.
In the north, Mr. Ravenstahl, 27, a former UPMC business analyst, won the 20th District House seat in the 2010 election to replace Don Walko, who is now a judge. The brother of Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl now knows the frustration of being in the minority party.
Republicans "control what bills are brought up," Adam Ravenstahl said. If they like your idea, they call it their own, he said. When he proposed a modest bill clarifying that electric bicycles are bicycles, and not motor vehicles, a Republican snatched the idea and introduced essentially the same bill a week later.
Mr. Ravenstahl voted against voter identification, school cuts and a bill that he said taxed the gas industry too lightly. He has voted for bills that would halt court-ordered reassessments.
Stopping reassessments wouldn't be enough for Mr. Barr, 59, a caregiver for mentally challenged adults. "You can't have a property tax and tax people out of their homes," he said.
The state should cover the minimum cost of educating students, and districts could levy taxes on businesses or wages if they wanted above-baseline education, he said.
That's pie in the sky, according to Mr. Ravenstahl. "Education needs to be paid for in some fashion, and if you eliminate (property taxes), you're going to have to pay more somewhere (else)," he said.
Mr. Ravenstahl was one of many voices calling for a solution to the Port Authority's budget problems. A compromise emerged involving union concessions, more state money and a county infusion from the Regional Asset District tax.
Mr. Barr offered tougher medicine, "They'd either have to downsize the buses, or fill them up."
Keep the state stores, Mr. Ravenstahl urged, to preserve jobs and prevent the proliferation of liquor stores to every city street corner. Privatize them all, countered Mr. Barr. "There aren't too many things that government does well," he said. "How does government determine a good wine or a good spirit?"
First Published October 15, 2012 12:00 am