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Voters in South Hills, Westmoreland to choose 2 state senators

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 4:47 a.m.
State Sen. Kim L. Ward
Ron Gazze
State Rep. Matt Smith
State Rep. Matt Smith
State Sen. Kim L. Ward
Ron Gazze

Two area state Senate contests are Tuesday.

In Jefferson Hills, Pleasant Hills and the rest of the 37th District, two Mt. Lebanon residents — Republican D. Raja, a former Allegheny County executive candidate, and Democratic state Rep. Matt Smith — seek to succeed Sen. John Pippy, R-Moon Township.

In Irwin, North Huntingdon Township, North Irwin and the rest of the 39th District, Greensburg dentist Ron Gazze, 62, is an independent who circulated petitions after Sen. Kim L. Ward, R-Hempfield Township, also won by write-ins for the Democratic nod for a second term.

“I truly enjoy being able to help the communities and the folks I represent,” said Ward, 56, who stressed that she doesn't take per diems or other perks. She co-sponsored term limit legislation and, if re-elected, “I will continue to work on carrying this initiative over the finish line.”

She pledged to implement findings expected next month from a child abuse task force created through her legislation. She also would follow up “on my methadone travel legislation (requiring users to go to the nearest clinic) to address pill mills and other types of drug abuse.”

Ward sponsored an E-Verify bill “which requires that all workers on any government construction job be legally permitted to be in this country” and pledged plans ranging from “removing some specific government mandates (on school districts) to the mechanic's lien bill which will protect homeowners from getting ripped off.”

In 2008, Gazze sought to run as a Democrat for state House in the 57th District but failed to get enough signatures. He switched to an independent bid for that seat in 2010 and filed 1,400 signatures last year to run for Westmoreland County commissioner.

Gazze wants term limits, a reduction in the number of state legislators and campaign finance reform. He pledged to spend less than $2,000 on his campaign. He also would continue working part-time as a dentist if elected.

Gazze studied at Penn State. Ward is a board certified respiratory therapist who attended Community College of Allegheny County, the University of Pittsburgh and Middle Tennessee State University. Both candidates are married. Gazze is the father of two, while Ward has three sons.

In the 37th District, Smith, 40, a husband and father of three, takes on Raja, 46, a husband and father of two.

Raja, an entrepreneur and former township commissioner, ran unsuccessfully against Rich Fitzgerald for county executive, then survived a knock-down, drag-out GOP primary against Sue Means and Rep. Mark Mustio, R-North Fayette Township.

“Issues I brought up during (2011) like lowering taxes, addressing our transportation needs, bringing jobs to the area and using innovation to solve our problems are still very important,” Raja said. “It might be best to try to attack those things from Harrisburg.”

Raja has degrees from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University. In 1992 he co-founded a software development firm in Green Tree.

Smith has degrees from Rollins College in Florida and the Duquesne University School of Law. He was elected to the House in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Democratic committee members chose Smith in place of former Pleasant Hills Councilman Greg Parks, who was nominated by write-ins but withdrew for personal reasons. Smith said he's running for the same reason he ran for the House, “because I believe that Pennsylvanians deserve better from state government” from leaders who will work “across the aisle” to make state government more transparent and accountable.

“My top priorities are defending seniors and the middle class, investing in education and good jobs, continuing the fight to clean up state government, and restoring local control over natural gas drilling,” Smith said.

As voters prepare for Tuesday, the latest plan to remap legislative districts still is before the state Supreme Court, where arguments were heard Sept. 14. That plan was worked out after the high court tossed a proposal that moved the 45th District from parts of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties to Monroe County.

For now, the 45th stays in the west and Sen. James R. Brewster, D-McKeesport, is unopposed for a full term. Also unopposed is Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa Jr., D-Forest Hills, who seeks a fifth full term from a 43rd District that now covers West Mifflin and the Steel Valley boroughs.

Websites: joinraja.com, www.votemattsmith.com, www.facebook.com/SenatorKimWard, https://www.facebook.com/ron.gazze

Thursday: 25th Legislative District.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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