Special elections on primary day will fill two Pa. House seats; meet the candidates

Voters in two Pennsylvania House districts will choose representatives next month to fill vacant seats, bringing the chamber to its full complement of 203 lawmakers for the first time in this year’s session.

In suburban Philadelphia, an Army veteran and a congressional aide are running to take the place of a Democratic state representative who stepped down amid a flurry of sexual harassment allegations.

In north central Pennsylvania, a professional firefighter and a longtime county commissioner are vying for a seat vacated when the Republican who held it was elevated to the state Senate in a January special election. 

The ballots in both districts also include Libertarian party candidates.

While the May 16 special elections, coinciding with the primary election, have the potential to erase or bolster the razor-thin Democratic majority in the House, no change in the one-vote margin is likely.

State Sen. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-Northumberland, was elected to the state Senate in a special election earlier this year, leaving the 108th Legislative District in north central Pennsylvania open. 

The district, which includes Montour County and part of Northumberland County, has been represented by Republicans for at least 50 years. Culver was first elected to the House in 2010. 

Rep. Mike Zabel, D-Delaware, resigned last month after at least three women accused him of unwanted advances and inappropriate contact at events outside the Capitol. 

The 163rd Legislative District in southeast Delaware County is likely to return to Democratic control. In the 2022 election, Zabel won 65% of the vote in his newly redrawn district and lost in only three of the 48 precincts. Zabel outperformed U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., in the top-of-ticket U.S. Senate race.

In 2020, voters in the precincts that now comprise the 163rd District voted for the Democratic House candidates by similar margins. 

108th District

Trevor S. Finn – Democrat

Finn, of Danville, Montour County, was elected county commissioner in 2003, and said he hopes to replicate his success in that role as a state representative.

Montour County Commissioner Trevor Finn is the Democratic nominee for the 108th state House district.

Working with a five-county economic development agency, Finn said he has played a role in the creation of good-paying jobs, an entrepreneurial business incubator, and a cost-effective solution to provide rural broadband internet access.

“I’m looking forward to taking a lot of the successes that we realized in Montour County and bringing that to the whole district,” Finn told the Capital-Star.

If elected, Finn said he would focus on economic development for the district, which includes the county seats of Sunbury in Northumberland County, and Danville in Montour County, while protecting its rural and small-town character.

Finn said he would also work to advance the causes of all Pennsylvania residents by ensuring the freedoms granted by the federal Bill of Rights are reflected in the laws of the commonwealth. 

As a gun owner, Finn said he believes in the right to own firearms, but said legislation advanced by Republicans to allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit goes too far. 

Finn said he would pursue legislation to allow teachers, pediatricians and anyone else who has contact with children and parents to help those who have guns in the household obtain trigger locks.

Michael Stender – Republican

Stender, of Sunbury, has worked as a professional firefighter in Harrisburg for 10 years and serves as a Shikellamy School District director. He also served for five years as the legislative director for the Pennsylvania Professional Firefighters Association.

Michael Stender is the Republican nominee for the 108th state House district.

The area the 108th District now encompasses has had only two state representatives in the last 40 years, and Culver had a strong record of helping constituents, Stender said. 

“When people call looking for help from a state representative she makes sure that they’re heard and seen. I hope to continue that,” Stender said.

Stender said he would fight for workers and small business owners and push for fiscal restraint in Harrisburg to avoid the use of one-time funding to pay for ongoing needs. Stender said broadband infrastructure is a crucial priority for the district’s agricultural businesses. 

As a firefighter, Stender said he sees the challenges volunteer fire departments and ambulance services face in recruiting and retaining new members. Stender said he would work to improve access to training by allowing public safety volunteers to take courses online and provide classes at local community colleges.

Stender said rural townships, including those in his district, are burdened by state regulations, such as the prevailing wage act, that make it harder to complete smaller public works projects. He said he would pursue legislation to modernize local government regulations, including the Sunshine Law, to allow municipalities to advertise public meetings online. 

Elijah Scretching – Libertarian

Scretching of Northumberland is a Marine Corps veteran and father, the Sunbury Daily Item reported. Scretching did not respond to a message through his Facebook page, which lists no other information.

163rd District

Heather Boyd – Democrat

Boyd, of Upper Darby Township, took a leave of absence from her position as district director for U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, and served as her campaign manager when Scanlon was first elected in 2018. 

Heather Boyd is the Democratic nominee for the 163rd state House district.

The 2010 election, when Democrats lost the U.S. House two years after President Barack Obama’s election, was a wake up call for Boyd “that everything wasn’t peachy keen,” she said.

Since then, Boyd said, she has volunteered in every election since.

Boyd, a former school director, and mother of two students in the Upper Darby School District, said she sees education funding as the most pressing issue for the state Legislature this session following the landmark court decision declaring Pennsylvania’s system of funding public schools unconstitutional.

In addition to Upper Darby, the district includes William Penn School District, where the legal challenge originated.  Boyd said that not acting swiftly to remedy the funding system would be a disservice to children across the state.

“I don’t want to lose a whole generation of kids,” Boyd said. “We have to fix that in a way that recognizes that it can’t take 20 years. It has to be now.”

Protecting women’s right to bodily autonomy is Boyd’s paramount reason for running, she said. 

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the right to abortion, the need to fight efforts to restrict reproductive health care in Pennsylvania is more dire than ever Boyd said. 

Boyd said she would also work to protect labor rights and support immigrant communities, including by pursuing legislation to allow people to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status. 

Katie Ford – Republican

Ford describes herself as a life-long resident of Upper Darby who joined the Army Reserves after she graduated from high school. As a mother of three, she became involved as a volunteer in her children’s schools and served as Home and School president.

Katie Ford is the Republican nominee for the 163rd state House district.

She attended college later in life, and earned a degree from Penn State in Human Development and Family Studies. Ford works as a behavioral therapist working with children with developmental delays and who are neurodiverse. 

Ford was not available for an interview. But she said in an email that she would reject partisanship to focus on improving public safety by prosecuting criminals, stopping the supply of drugs and supporting police. She also identified fighting inflation and improving schools as priorities. 

As the wife of a police officer, a community volunteer and behavioral therapist, Ford said she shares the experiences of most families in her community.

“I’m not a political insider making a big taxpayer-funded salary; I’m a commonsense working mom who helps children with special needs,” Ford said.

Boyd said connections to people and their problems would make her a good legislator. She said Zabel’s resignation and the admission by Democratic lawmakers that they knew about the allegations against him pushed her to run for Zabel’s seat.

Alfe Goodwin – Libertarian

Goodwin’s Facebook page says that she is a retired Philadelphia police officer. Goodwin did not respond to a message through the page, which lists no other contact information.

Originally published at www.penncapital-star.com,by Peter Hall

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