NEW CASTLE —
Around here, contested races for the state Legislature are few and far between.
No so this year, as Lawrence County has three active contests where serious candidates are challenging incumbents.
Two of these involve the state House. Incumbent Democrat Chris Sainato faces Republican challenger Jason Murtha in the 9th District contest, while Jaret Gibbons, also a Democratic incumbent, is squaring off against Republican Michael See in the 10th District.
Meanwhile, incumbent Republican Sen. Elder Vogel faces Democrat Kimberly Pazzanita Villella for Senate in the 47th District. All three races feature aggressive, sometimes ugly, campaigns.
All six candidates on the ballot strike us as serious, responsible individuals. All bring something to the table. But when it came to making endorsement decisions, we opted for the incumbents.
Perhaps our strongest endorsement goes to Jaret Gibbons. He impresses us with his depth of knowledge and energy. Despite his relative youth and limited time in the House, he quickly demonstrates he has his finger on the pulse of the issues the district faces.
In no way does this minimize his opponent, Michael See, who also impressed us with his interest in economic issues and education. He stressed his willingness to seek bipartisan solutions to problems in Pennsylvania.
We also are comfortable endorsing Elder Vogel for re-election to his state Senate seat. Significantly, Vogel is the only farmer now serving in the Senate. With agriculture being Pennsylvania’s largest industry — and important to Lawrence County as well — his presence in Harrisburg has real benefits.
Democrat Kimberly Pazzanita Villella offers a varied business background as part of her resume, as well as service on the borough council in Baden. While those are useful assets for a lawmaker, we think Vogel’s knowledge of agriculture and experience with one term as a senator will better serve the district.
However, if Vogel is re-elected, we would strongly encourage him to broaden his areas of interests. In particular, we would like to see him become more involved in education issues, which we are believe are crucial to this region.
Finally, we are endorsing, Chris Sainato to his House seat with some hesitation. With 18 years in the House, Sainato basically is the elder statesman in the New Castle area. He needs to be more assertive in making that pay off.
Too often, we see Sainato in ceremonial roles, rather than leadership ones, in the community. Sainato attends many community functions, maintaining contacts, but this does not translate into accomplishments. We think he ought to be more involved in community issues, and citizens should insist on it.
Sainato’s opponent, Jason Murtha, strikes us as an energetic and credible alternative. But there’s a problem. Murtha has an old criminal record from 1998, apparently stemming from a personal dispute where he eventually pleaded guilty to reduced charges. We long have considered a clean record to be a minimal standard for candidates. We’re not changing that now.
So summing up, we recommend Elder Vogel for Senate and Jaret Gibbons and Chris Sainato for representative in the Nov. 6 election.