Whether it’s the so-called Trump effect, the chance to win a rare vacant seat or the starting salary of $87,171, citizens are lining up to run for the Pennsylvania Legislature.
There are at least five competitive races for state House and Senate seats in the Lehigh Valley area. That’s a lot for this time of year; would-be candidates don’t become official until late March with the filing of nominating petitions.
Democrats, looking to get their groove back after Donald Trump won the presidency, are expected to put up better challenges, in terms of money and campaigns, than in recent elections.
If victorious, they would whittle down large Republican majorities in the state House and Senate. In addition, more women from both parties are expected to run, partly in response to the #metoo movement over sexual harassment allegations and legal settlements in the workplace and government.
Here’s a rundown of competitive races:
16th District Senate seat
It covers most of Lehigh County.
Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, is the incumbent. He has served in the Legislature since 1995. As the Senate Appropriations chairman, Browne is responsible for helping craft the annual budget. In that Senate leadership role, Browne says it is his legislative duty to help the Lehigh Valley get state funding for various projects, including Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone, a special taxing district he created in a bill that became law. That philosophy has garnered Browne friends on both sides of the political aisle.
But Browne has not yet said whether he’ll seek re-eleciton.
If he runs, Browne could face Democrat Mark Pinsley in the general election. In November, Pinsley was elected to the South Whitehall Board of Commissioners. He co-owns DermaMed Solutions, a skincare products manufacturing company in Delaware County.
“Why am I running?” he asked. “It started with Trump, no doubt about it for me.”
If elected to the Senate, Pinsely said, he would keep his township commissioner position. In Harrisburg, he said, he would seek to curb Pennsylvania’s unrestricted campaign finance laws and bring a single-payer health care system to the state.
131st House district
The district covers southern parts of Lehigh County and small pieces of Montgomery and Northampton counties.
Republican Rep. Justin Simmons, 31, of Upper Saucon is seeking his fifth term despite saying he would stop after three. Simmons was a 15th District congressional district hopeful, but ended that campaign days after The Morning Call reported he had missed 28 daily roll calls and 498 legislative votes since 2011.
Simmons has attributed those absences to obsessive-compulsive disorder, his wedding, a child’s birth and travel issues.
Fellow Republican Beverly Plosa-Bowser, 59, a resident of Upper Hanover, Montgomery County, is challenging him. She is a retired Air Force colonel who holds a political management degree from George Washington University.
Plosa-Bowser said she entered the race after being recruited by Republican House officials while Simmons was running for Congress.
The GOP winner will take on Democrat Andy Lee, 53, of Upper Saucon. He owns Braveheart in Hellertown and Taps Tavern in Lower Saucon Township. Prior to getting into the restaurant business, Lee, a New England native, started and ran insurance companies.
Lee said he is running because Simmons has never stopped into Taps to ask how legislation would affect small businesses. “I pay taxes and I don’t know what I get for it,” he said, adding he pays his 70 employees above minimum wage and the state should follow his lead legislatively.
134th House district
It covers parts of western Lehigh County and sections of eastern Berks County.
The seat is being vacated by Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Lehigh, as he runs for the 15th congressional seat Republican Charlie Dent is giving up by not seeking another term.
Looking to replace Mackenzie is Lower Macungie Township Commissioner Ron Beitler, 38. The Republican launched a small business, Bar None Weddings, a decade ago. He’s also a bartender and serves on Lehigh County’s farmland preservation board.
Beitler said he believes in government reform — such as term limits and campaign finance reform. He’d also like a more long-term, fiscally resilient budget, and said he opposed gambling expansion.
“As someone who built a business from the ground up, I know that you can’t spend more than you bring in and then borrow to fill the gaps. This simply passes debt along to our children, which is irresponsible,” Beitler said.
Democrat Tom Applebach, 55, of Lower Macungie, is also running for the post. He is Lehigh County’s director of veterans affairs, a job that calls for him to advocate for veterans and their families.
“I think I’m a proven leader in the community, especially when it comes to veterans, and I wanted to extend that at the state level,” he said.
Applebach, who served in the military for 21 years before working for the county, said he wants to help veterans and their families, solve the property tax issue so elderly people don’t get priced out of their homes by high taxes, and look at public school funding.
He formed the Lehigh Valley Homeless Veteran Task Force. He’s also a member of the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Veteran Mentoring program and Gov. Wolf’s advisory Council on Veterans Services.
137th House district
It covers parts of the Nazareth area and regions north of Easton in Northampton County.
Rep. Joe Emrick, R-Northampton, is the incumbent. The 47-year-old has served since 2011. He didn’t return a call for comment.
Amy Cozze, the owner of Cozze Cakes in Nazareth, is the lone Democrat. Cozze lives in Upper Nazareth Township and is a board member of the Nazareth Business Council.
Cozze, 34, said she feels Harrisburg is out of touch with small-business owners, and it’s time to change that.
“For too long they’ve catered to the larger corporations and conglomerates and it’s put them out of touch with Main Street America,” she said. “They don’t seem to have the interests of the middle class in mind any more.”
Her top priorities are job growth, helping small businesses, education and health care.
138th House district
It covers areas north of Bethlehem in Northampton County.
Rep. Marcia Hahn, R-Northampton, is the incumbent. The 63-year-old has served since 2011. She did not return a call for comment.
The Democrat is Dean Donaher, a Bethlehem Area School Board director. Donaher, 64, of Hanover Township, was the district’s director of student services when he retired in 2015. He was elected to the school board a few months later.
Donaher said he decided to run because he was frustrated by how the state handles school funding and property tax reform.
“We have to do something. Every couple of years it’s brought up and nothing happens,” he said. “I feel I have knowledge that can aid and help in the development of something that would lead to real property tax reform, in whatever shape that would be.”
He said he also cares about preserving open space and the economy.
Now, he also serves as board president for the Five Star Heart Project, a nonprofit that seeks to instill the spirit of self-improvement, hard work and dedication in middle school students, and as chairman at the Holy Infancy Parish Pastoral Council.
So far the following incumbents do not have announced opponents:
GOP Rep. Gary Day of the 187th district; GOP Rep. Zach Mako of the 183rd District; Democrat Rep. Mike Schlossberg of the 132nd District; Democrat Pete Schweyer of the 22nd District; Democratic Rep. Steve Samuelson of the 135th District; and Democratic Rep. Bob Freeman, of the 136th District.