Jacob Pavlecic, of Richland, isn’t waiting to graduate from college before he puts his studies in politics and philosophy to use: The 20-year-old University of Pittsburgh student is already running against a three-term incumbent, Republican Hal English, to represent the 30th district in the state House of Representatives.
“This was never my plan,” the Democratic hopeful said. “I’d thought to go to law school. But after the 2016 election, my friend said, ‘Why don’t people who take policy seriously run? Why can’t you make your mark in politics?'”
This is Mr. Pavlecic’s first run for office, though politics may be in the blood: His father Robert was elected to the Pine-Richland school board last year, but died in November. “I was helping my dad run for school board, and I participated in the Democratic Voter corps” — a grassroots group of Democratic volunteer campaign workers.
And while being a 20-year-old, first-time candidate seeking to topple an incumbent might seem daunting, Mr. Pavlecic said the Corps’ efforts “got a bunch of Democrats up and down the ballot get elected, including my dad. Democrats have been able to win seats that nobody thought they could.”
Mr. Pavlecic, who admits to having “always been a nerd with this stuff,” said his top agenda items included the need for balancing the budget, and streamlining state business licensing requirements. “That’s an area where we could work alongside Republicans, and where we could encourage entrepreneurs.” He also said he’d like to try bringing down health care costs, in part by requiring hospitals to publish their prices online.
Mr. Pavlecic described himself as a political moderate, “Because to me that means a willingness to compromise. I like to get things done.”
He said, for example, that while he favored universal background checks for gun purchases and a ban on “bump stocks” which allow a high rate of fire from semiautomatic rifles, “Pennsylvania’s constitution — maybe even more than the federal Constitution — protects a right to self-defense, so you can’t ignore that.”
The 30th district includes Hampton, Fox Chapel and Richland, as well as parts of O’Hara and Shaler. Mr. English, a lawyer and retired Marine Corps Reservist, was first elected to represent it in 2012, when he beat Democrat David Tusick by a 57-to-43 percent margin. He has not faced a Democratic challenger since then.
The American Conservative Union gave Mr. English a 70 percent lifetime rating for his votes, making him one of the chamber’s more moderate Republicans. Among the bills he’s sponsored are a measure allowing candidates to append a message to outside political ads saying they do not support their messages, and one assuring that hunters won’t lose their licenses for voluntarily reporting accidental kills.
Mr. English has just over $54,000 in a campaign finance account, though it carries a $30,000 loan from the candidate.
“I do have a lot of respect for Hal English,”said Mr. Pavlecic, who recalled the incumbent calling to congratulate him on completing an Eagle Scout project. “But he votes in lockstep with [House Speaker] Mike Turzai and the other House leadership, and they have a poisonous leadership.”
Mr. Pavlecic acknowledged Mr. English’s fundraising edge. But with graduation looming after this spring, Mr. Pavlecic said he would be able to knock on a lot of doors. “I’d just ask voters to keep an open mind and give me the chance to make my case,” he said.