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These Pennsylvania House primaries will decide who goes to Harrisburg next year

The Pennsylvania House chamber. (Credit: Capital-Star photo by Peter Hall)

Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
April 4, 2024

Voters in a handful of Pennsylvania’s 203 legislative districts will cast decisive votes for their state representatives in this month’s primary elections.

While every seat in the state House is up for election in this year’s presidential election, nearly half will be uncontested, with only one candidate appearing on the ballot. Among the 104 districts where voters will have a choice in November, only 28 have a contested primary for either party.

And among those, an even smaller number have candidates on only the Republican or Democratic ballot. While it is possible for a write-in candidate to score a victory, the last time that happened in the General Assembly was when former state Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) was elected by write-in votes in a 2014 special election. 

Here’s a look at the 16 legislative districts where the primary election will likely decide who voters will send to Harrisburg for the 2025-26 legislative session.

10th District – Philadelphia

 State Rep. Amen Brown (D-Philadelphia)

State Rep. Amen Brown (D-Philadelphia) has represented his west Philadelphia district since 2021 and faces two challengers in the Democratic primary this year after he ran an unsuccessful campaign for Philadelphia mayor in 2023.

In a rematch of the 2022 primary, Brown is running against community activists Sadja Blackwell and Cass Green. Brown defeated Green by about 200 votes and was unchallenged in the general election. Brown may be more susceptible to a challenge this year after his mayoral bid left his political career tarnished when financial and legal improprieties in his business and real estate dealings emerged. 

Green is a co-founder of Mill Creek Community Partnership, a nonprofit organization working to revitalize the Mill Creek neighborhood of Philadelphia through arts and culture, education, urban redevelopment and economic empowerment. On her campaign website, Green said she also works in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office doing juvenile diversion and restorative justice. 

Blackwell is also a community organizer and co-founder of Blackwell Cultural Alliance, which provides food for needy families and focuses on crime prevention and community service by providing safe, creative spaces for young adults. Related by marriage to the late U.S. Rep. Lucien Blackwell, Sajda Blackwell is likely to benefit from those political connections.

11th District – Butler County

Rep. Marci Mustello (R-Butler) is seeking her fourth term representing a swath of Butler County northeast of Pittsburgh. The GOP primary in the 11th District will be a rematch of the 2020 election, when Mustello defeated challenger Ryan Covert to stay in her seat.

 State Rep. Marci Mustello

Before she was elected to the state House, Mustello ran U.S. Rep Mike Kelly’s (R-16th District) Butler County district office and served as the president of the local humane society. Mustello touts a conservative agenda with abortion control, Second Amendment rights, and election integrity, including voter ID and election audits, among her legislative priorities. 

Covert, who lost to Mustello in 2020 by 742 votes, attacks Mustello on her election integrity record, noting that she voted in favor of Act 77, the 2019 law that made no-excuse mail-in voting an option in Pennsylvania. Covert, a small business owner and professional boxer, claims that he was winning the 2020 primary until mail-in ballots were counted.

32nd District – Allegheny County

Rep. Joe McAndrew (D-Allegheny) was elected in a February 2023 special election to fill the House seat left vacant by the late Rep. Anthony DeLuca’s death. Penn Hills Mayor Pauline Calabrese is challenging McAndrew.

 State Rep. Joe McAndrew

McAndrew, who owns a marketing business, worked for former House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny), was executive director of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, and worked on the campaign of U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-17th District) before running for office himself. 

McAndrew touts working-class roots and said raising the minimum wage, supporting unions, protecting women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, and ensuring equitable school funding are among his priorities. 

Calabrese notes that this year’s election is the first opportunity voters will have to weigh in on the nominee to succeed DeLuca, who served the strongly Democratic district for 40 years. Calabrese said she would focus on reproductive health care, climate policy, property tax reform and gun reforms in the House. 

34th District – Allegheny County

Elected in the same February 2023 trio of special elections as McAndrew, Rep. Abigail Salisbury (D-Allegheny) replaced U.S. Rep. Summer Lee (D-12th District), who was reelected to the state House at the same time she won her seat in Congress. Wilkinsburg School Board Director Ashley Comans is challenging Salisbury.

 State Rep. Abigail Salisbury

Salisbury, a lawyer and former Swissvale borough council member, touts her work as a lawmaker to improve access to state grants and improve cooperation between municipal elected officials. She founded the PA Charitable Nonprofit Caucus, which works to improve the state’s relationship with and services to charities. She has also passed bills to fight blight and provide grant writing assistance to low-income communities.

As a school director, Comans said she has been an advocate for equitable school funding while working to restructure the Wilkinsburg district’s schools and reduce property taxes. Comans said she would fight as a state lawmaker for working families by pursuing health and reproductive justice and support for family care, such as paid family and sick leave.

50th District – Washington County

 State Rep. Bud Cook

Four-term incumbent Rep. Bud Cook (R-Fayette) faces political newcomer Stephanie Waggett in the Republican primary for the state’s southwesternmost legislative district.

Cook was first elected to the 49th District in 2016. Redistricting put Cook’s West Pike Run Township home in the 50th District in 2022. As a state representative, Cook has focused on drawing people back to Greene and Washington counties by highlighting the assets and attractions of southwest Pennsylvania that make it an attractive place to make a living and raise a family. His legislative priorities include fighting the drug epidemic, reducing taxes, and gun rights.

Waggett, a registered nurse and former plant administrator at Fayette Energy, describes herself as a believer in individual liberty, limited government, and fiscal responsibility. She touts endorsements from anti-abortion and Second Amendment rights groups. She is also endorsed by United Mine Workers of America and said she will fight against “climate radicals” who she says aim to destroy Pennsylvania’s oil, gas and coal industries.

55th District – Westmoreland County

Rep. Jill Cooper (R-Westmoreland) is running for a second term representing her district east of Pittsburgh. Murraysville Council Member Jaime Lingg is challenging Cooper in the Republican primary.

Before she was elected to the state House, Cooper, a retired sales and marketing executive for Alcoa, also served as a member of several nonprofit and government boards and commissions, including the regional Workforce Investment Board and Murraysville Economic and Community Development Corp.

 State Rep. Jill Cooper

Cooper describes herself as a fighter for students and small business owners during the pandemic closures of schools and non-essential businesses. She said she believes Pennsylvanians’ problems are not unique to one party or the other; “they transcend politics, race, gender, religion, and most other characteristics that many politicians seek to use as tools to divide us.”

Lingg, who holds an engineering degree, owns a small business and homeschooled her children, was elected to Murraysville Council in 2022. She has also served as a volunteer for athletic organizations and her church. She describes herself as a defender of the Constitution and a champion for conservative values.

80th District – Blair County

The Republican primary for the 80th District, which includes Altoona and surrounding areas, features a showdown between two local broadcasters. 

 State Rep. Jim Gregory

Three-term incumbent Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair), who was sports director at WTAJ-TV and marketing director for the Altoona Curve minor league baseball team, faces a challenge from pastor and WRTA talk show host Scott Barger.

As a lawmaker, Gregory has been open about his struggle with addiction and as a victim of childhood sexual abuse in his advocacy for drug and alcohol treatment. He has also pushed to pass bipartisan legislation to create a two-year exception to the civil statute of limitations that would allow adult survivors of sexual abuse to sue the people and institutions that enabled their victimization.

Barger retired from his role as a full-time pastory to help run the family business as general manager and host for WRTA, which carries nationally syndicated conservative talk shows in addition to local programming. As a lawmaker, Barger said his priorities would be to hold public schools accountable for their performance, to block the carbon credit proposals he characterized as Gov. Josh Shapiro’s energy tax, and to shift funding away from Planned Parenthood, among other conservative priorities.

90th District – Franklin County

After five terms in the House, Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) announced he would not seek re-election, putting his south central Pennsylvania seat up for grabs.

 State Rep. Paul Schemel

Greencastle-Antrim School Board Vice President Janon “Jay” Gray is running against Washington Township planning and zoning officer and former legislative director Chad Reichard.

Gray, an accountant and consultant, said his priorities for state government include sustainable spending, transparent budgeting, and tax reduction. He would also work to support agriculture, veterans, public education, and child welfare. 

Reichard holds degrees in business and public administration and has served as a Washington Township supervisor. He also worked as a legislative staffer in the Pennsylvania Senate and the U.S. House. Reichard’s campaign website says he is an opponent of unnecessary government spending and oppressive state regulations and supports agriculture and parents’ rights in education.

100th District – Lancaster

Nine-term incumbent House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) faces a challenge from political newcomer and Sadsbury Township resident Dave Nissley.

 State Rep. Bryan Cutler

Nissley, who said on his campaign website that he was inspired to run after hearing conservative author Eric Metaxas speak, lists school choice, abortion control, property tax reform, eliminating burdensome regulation, and election integrity as priorities. 

Nissley, who owns a landscaping business, faces a formidable campaign finance challenge in his run against the top Republican in the state House. As GOP leader, Cutler has the endorsement of Lancaster County Republicans and the ability to draw in contributors from across the state. 

As a lawmaker, Cutler highlights his opposition to former Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic emergency order closing schools and businesses, vaccine requirements and the passage of a constitutional amendment that limits the governor’s emergency powers. 

102nd District – Lebanon

Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon), who is running for reelection to a sixth term, faces a challenge from a conservative Republican backed by a regular target of Diamond’s criticism.

Rachel Moyer, the vice president of Eastern Lebanon County School Board, announced in November that she was running against Diamond with the “full support” of state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin). Mastriano was the 2022 GOP gubernatorial nominee who lost to Shapiro.

 State Rep. Russ Diamond

Diamond, a musician and recording studio owner turned government reform advocate, was first elected in 2015. But he became widely known in Pennsylvania political circles a decade earlier when his organization, PA Clean Sweep, led a charge to oust lawmakers who voted in a 2 a.m. roll call to increase their own salaries.

As a lawmaker, he touts his work as a leader of the opposition to pandemic business and school closures, legislation to secure a share of casino revenue for his district, and work to allow the production of industrial hemp as a cash crop for Pennsylvania farmers. 

Diamond called on Republicans before the 2022 primary to oppose Mastriano’s candidacy for governor, noting that his association with efforts to overturn the 2020 election made him Shapiro’s “dream opponent.” Last year, he called on Mastriano to bow out of this year’s U.S. Senate race, citing his poor performance in the governor’s race. 

Moyer, a stay-at-home mother and wife of a pastor, was the Lebanon County chapter leader of Free PA, educating members on election laws and training them to be poll workers. She has also been active as a volunteer on Republican campaigns for school board, county commissioner, state Senate and governor, according to her website. 

110th District – Bradford County

 State Rep. Tina Pickett

First elected in 2000, Rep. Tina Pickett (R-Bradford) is running against Athens resident and special education teacher Matthew Wayman.

Pickett is the ranking Republican member of the House Insurance Committee and served as its chairperson when the GOP held a majority in the lower chamber last session. Pickett has been the prime sponsor of laws modernizing the insurance industry, expanding the use of telehealth, extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and giving small businesses a role in the development of state regulations. Before she was elected to the House, Pickett was a Bradford County Commissioner.

Wayman said he is running for the House seat because he believes that state lawmakers have failed to adapt to a changing political environment. The result has been a decline in the number of bills passed and sent to the governor’s desk, Wayman said in his campaign announcement.

​​”The 110th district and Pennsylvanians deserve a House of Representatives willing to address the issues and work together for the betterment of our great state,” Wayman said.

117th District – Luzerne County

Rep. Mike Cabell (R-Luzerne) is running for reelection to a second term against small business owner James Walsh.

 State Rep. Mike Cabell

Cabell was elected in 2022 after becoming involved with politics during an unsuccessful bid for Luzerne County commissioner in 2015. He describes himself as an entrepreneur who founded and later sold a successful behavioral health company. 

As a lawmaker, Cabell said voter ID is among his priorities. He is the prime sponsor of a bill to introduce measures to verify the identity of voters while ensuring that all eligible voters can obtain an ID without undue hardship. Cabell highlights his support of the expanded Property Tax and Rent Rebate program for low and middle income seniors passed as part of the current state budget. And Cabell introduced a package of legislation to empower parents in their children’s education.

Walsh is a co-founder and president of Citizens Advisory of Pennsylvania, which his campaign website describes as an organization that helps parents fight for rights and address issues in school districts across the state. In addition to school choice, Walsh said free speech, gun rights, property tax reform, election integrity, and support for small businesses are among his priorities if elected.

136th District – Northampton County

 State Rep. Robert Freeman

Rep. Robert Freeman (D-Northampton) is the longest-serving member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. This year he faces a challenge from Democratic Easton City Council Member Taiba Sultana. 

Freeman was first elected to the House in 1982 and has served for a total of 38 years with a four-year hiatus after an unsuccessful bid for state Senate in 1994. Freeman is chairperson of the House Local Government Committee and touts his work to help communities manage growth through planning, building economic opportunities, and addressing pressing environmental issues. 

Sultana says her experiences as an immigrant from Pakistan and a domestic violence survivor who experienced homelessness with her children shaped her to be an activist, get involved in politics and be “a voice for the voiceless.” Sultana, however, has faced legal trouble after she was charged in July with physically assaulting a family member. Last month, Sultana was accepted into a diversionary program that will leave her without a criminal record. 

If elected, Sultana said she would work to deliver power for Pennsylvania communities and progress toward economic, racial, and environmental justice.

181st District – Philadelphia

 State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta

Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) is running for state auditor general at the same time as he defends his House seat in a three-way Democratic primary. His challengers are Lewis Nash Sr., a pastor and Philadelphia ward leader, and NaDerah Griffin, who was a math and reading teacher and a board member and instructor for the Philadelphia Energy Authority’s solar power vocational program.

Kenyatta was first elected to the House in 2018 and was the first openly LGBTQ+ person of color elected to the General Assembly. He ran an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate in 2022, losing in the Democratic primary to John Fetterman. As a state lawmaker, Kenyatta has prioritized workers’ rights, gun safety, and extending existing anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ+ people.

Nash is founder and pastor at Faith and Deliverance Kingdom Worship Center in north Philadelphia. He is also founder of Mankind Against Poverty Community Development Corp., where volunteers work to help residents in need with housing, health, literacy and basic needs. Nash’s campaign website says running for the state House is another way for him to serve his community.

On her Facebook page Griffin said she would focus on crime and public safety, criminal justice reform, mental health, education, employment, and affordable housing.

188th District – Philadelphia

Rep. Rick Krajewski is running for a third term representing his southwest Philadelphia district. His challenger in the Democratic primary is Tony Dphax King, a former city council candidate.

Krajewski came to Philadelphia as a student at the University of Pennsylvania and became a software engineer who also volunteered to teach programming classes at a neighborhood elementary school. He later left his engineering career to become a community organizer. 

 State Rep. Rick Krajewski

Growing up poor in the Bronx, Krajewski said, taught him to fight for what he needed. He said on his campaign website he will work as a lawmaker for affordable housing, criminal justice reform, accessible education for all and for his community’s needs.

King’s Facebook page describes him as a self-employed contractor who studied psychology at Temple University.

190th District – Philadelphia

Rep. Roni Green (D-Philadelphia) won a 2020 special election. Green lost the seat to Rep. Amen Brown (D-Philadelphia) in the 2020 general election. Green was reelected in 2022 after redistricting moved Brown to his current district. James Jackson, who ran against Green as an Independent in 2022, is challenging her in the primary.

Green was a community and labor organizer, serving as business agent for Service Employees International Union Local 668. She also worked as a Pennsylvania Department of Human Services caseworker in Philadelphia, which Green said gave her a deep understanding of the systemic causes of economic, social and political inequality. 

As a lawmaker, Green said she fights for workers’ rights, affordable housing, gun reform, criminal justice reform, and equitable community and economic development that creates opportunities for members of the community.

No information was available for Jackson.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.