Exclusive: Republicans Preparing for Special Election in Orie Seat

By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor

Updated with a response from Dan DeMarco.

Hart served in the State Senate from 1991-2001

Allegheny County Republicans are quietly preparing for a special election to fill State Senator Orie’s seat, PoliticsPA has learned.

Insiders believe the writing is on the wall. They predict a guilty verdict this week, and even in the unlikely event that Orie is acquitted, they believe it’s best to be prepared.

Several sources point to unflattering newspaper coverage as the defense and prosecution prepare to offer their closing arguments today in Orie’s trial.

The front runner for the GOP nomination appears to be former Congresswoman Melissa Hart, who served as Orie’s predecessor in the State Senate from 1991-2001. Hart currently chairs the Government Affairs and Relations division of Pittsburgh-based law firm Keevican Weiss Bauerle & Hirsch, according to the group’s website. Several sources close to the Allegheny Republican committee told PoliticsPA that if Hart wants the seat, the field will clear for her.

Three sources with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed this account but asked to remain anonymous, citing the the risk of political retribution from Orie or her supporters (especially if she is found not guilty).

Several corroborating accounts also indicate that, according to Hart supporters, a conversation has already taken place between Hart and Senate Pro Tem Joe Scarnati. Reportedly, the two have discussed the possibility of a Hart candidacy and the chances of having her 10 years of Senate service recognized should she win.

“I don’t think the Senator has talked to anybody for running for Senator Orie’s spot. I don’t know of any conversations along those lines at all,” said Scarnati chief of staff Drew Crompton.

“I think that issue is at best premature,” he emphasized. “If we have to cross this bridge, we’ll obviously have discussions with all sorts of people, but usually its a local issue and Senator Scarnati has always deferred to local expertise.”

PoliticsPA checked with the Senate Parliamentarian, who said matters of seniority are entirely at the discretion of Senate Leadership. The possibility of regaining her Senate seniority would immediately strengthen the case for Hart, although Crompton noted that time served is just one consideration of committee assignments in the PA Senate.

When asked about a possible candidacy, Hart, like most Allegheny Republicans, demurred.

“I’ve had a lot of people stop me in the street, but that’s really as far as it’s gone. People who know me from when I served in Congress or served in the Senate before, but nothing else really,” she said.

“I still have a State Senator at this point. Anything could happen in the court, and I wish her the best.”

Allegheny GOP Chairman Jim Roddey echoed the sentiment.

“It’s far to early to speculate,” Roddey said. “We’re all hoping that Jane Orie is acquitted, and there will be no activity about that until her trial is resolved.”

The bulk of 40th district voters live in the Republican areas of Allegheny County, but it also comprises several parts of Butler County (at a ratio of about 2:1).

If Orie is convicted, Lieutenant Governor and Senate President Jim Cawley will call a special election to be held within 60 days. The Republican (and Democratic) committees of each county will select conferees, who will in turn select a nominee.

In a process that is heavily dependent on party activists and insiders, Hart has an edge.

However, she also has a history of bad blood with the Orie clan. She strongly backed State Rep. Mike Turzai over Orie when Hart left her seat to serve in Congress. There have even been rumors of Hart supporting Orie’s political opponents across party lines.

That’s why some insiders say Hart’s main challenge, should she decide to run, may come from an Orie loyalist (though there is currently no consensus on who that could be).

Other possible candidates include Allegheny County Councilwoman Jan Rea, County Councilman Matt Drozd and State Rep. Randy Vukolvich (R-30). State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County, the bombastic conservative who caught the GOP establishment off guard with a surprise run for Lieutenant Governor in 2010, could also proceed with a campaign.

Democrats stand ready to fight for the seat, but privately admit that it’s a tough one for their party to win. Governor Corbett and Majority Leader Turzai both hail from the 40th, and Orie won re-election last November by a 58 -42 percent margin despite her indictment.

Their candidate will likely be attorney and Ross Township Commissioner Dan DeMarco, who challenged Orie in 2010 and hammered the Senator with charges of corruption.

Update: A spokeswoman for DeMarco said that he is leaning toward another bid for the seat, but will wait for a verdict before making a final decision.

March 2nd, 2011 | Posted in Front Page Stories, Harrisburg | 9 Comments

9 thoughts on “Exclusive: Republicans Preparing for Special Election in Orie Seat”

  1. mike ference says:

    I’m in contact with AG Agent Robb Soop. I don’t know if he will do anything, but I keep trying. In Pa, justice is like the lottery, you have to keep playin’ to win. Seeking justice in PA is a game of chance. There’s no guarantee of justice. As the kids for cash who were sent to Zappala’s private juvenile detention centers.

    Mike Ference

  2. AGMines says:

    817 Worthington Avenue
    Clairton, PA 15025

    Hey, Mike where was Corbett on this investigation????

  3. AGMines says:

    Melissa Hart would be an old re-tread and as many call her today based on her well-earned reputation, a flake!

    Ms. Hart did not answer her mail as Congresswoman and ignored citizens needs and inquiries, that will not be forgotten.

    Representative Daryl Metcalfe is a far better choice.

    What is very sad is that even as the Orie’s enter into the abyss of self-destruction, Democrats cannot even take advantage of a bigger scandal such as the Orie’s created in Evidence-Gate.

  4. Did Drew Crompton put in a leave slip before he talked to you about politics?

  5. billadams says:

    Melissa Hart would be a great Senator. She’s pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment. I think she’s as sick of government overspending as any of us.
    If she keeps her seniority, she’d be the best possible asset to the district. If she doesn’t keep her seniority, she’s still the best possible asset to the district.

  6. Jay says:

    Sorry…meant 20 points…that’s bad enough!

  7. Jay says:

    Dear Lord!…will Melissa Hart PLEASE go away…she lost her last election by 60 points!…please, Missy, do us a favor and fade away gracefully…the voters have rejected you twice…take the hint…oh. and your car is overparked!

  8. Thomas says:

    I heard that Brian O’Malley (www.electbrianomalley.com) is a possible Republican Candidate for State Senate if Orie is found guilty.

  9. mike ference says:

    Letter to editor
    817 Worthington Avenue
    Clairton, PA 15025

    If it weren’t such a serious matter, I would find it laughable that Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappalla Jr. has announced plans to “revisit some of the matters” during the tenure of one-time Pittsburgh Catholic Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua now that the former cardinal of the Philadelphia archdiocese has been accused of transferring and possibly covering up crimes of priests accused of sexual abuse and never warning the unsuspecting parishioners in the new churches.

    Perhaps Zappalla can start by “revisiting” documentation that I provided years ago to two Allegheny County Detectives (Logan and Andrews) regarding an alleged cover-up that inspired the current McKeesport Police Chief to tell me that a grand jury investigation was merited. This case goes back to 1987, the last year Bevilacqua served in the Pittsburgh Diocese. The alleged cover-up involved a local priest giving an underage boy alcohol and drugs; there was a period of unconsciousness during which the boy may have been sexually abused, and then he eventually made his way to a city hospital. His parents were summoned, told what had happened and advised by medical staff not to report the alleged criminal activity.

    When I shared my research on this case years ago, Zappalla and his detectives did nothing except blow me off.

    My guess is that newspapers from the Philadelphia area with legitimate investigative reporters will break this story first. Zappalla and western PA publishers and editors who didn’t follow through on this years ago may be too busy removing egg from their face.

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