Pennsylvania: Fourth District|
Rep. Melissa Hart (R)
Last Updated July 15, 2003
For a century, one of America's great industrial zones was near the intersection of the Beaver and Ohio Rivers in western Pennsylvania. This was steel country, with mills rising black and brooding from the bottomlands and filling the narrow river valleys with smoke. Immigrant families lived in small frame houses on hillsides, looking down on riverscapes lined with piles of iron ore, limestone and coal, and littered with cranes, stocks and furnaces. This was not an environmentalist's idea of perfection, but it was a land of opportunity for thousands whose lives were far worse before moving to steel country. One grandchild of a Hungarian immigrant steelworker in Beaver Falls grew up to be Joe Namath--just one of the great quarterbacks to hail from southwestern Pennsylvania (Jim Kelly, Joe Montana and Dan Marino are a few of the others). For a few heady years, high union wages and early retirement plans seemed to make working in the mills the way to affluence. But the industry crashed after the oil shock of 1979, when mills were closed and jobs vanished. Today, thousands of workers who long ago exhausted their unemployment benefits have given up and left the Beaver and Ohio valleys.
The 4th Congressional District includes much of this steel country, plus a large swath of suburban Pittsburgh, especially since the last round of redistricting, when western Pennsylvania lost one House seat and the remaining districts were given more expansive borders. The 4th begins around Farrell in Mercer County, located as close to Erie as to Pittsburgh, then travels south along Route 60 through steel-mill (and former steel-mill) country in Lawrence and Beaver Counties. It then turns to the east, taking in a fast-growing tier of suburban southern Butler County and the longer-established Pittsburgh suburbs of Allegheny County: old-money Sewickley and Fox Chapel; affluent McCandless and middle-class Ross in the North Hills. It also takes in a tiny portion of Westmoreland County. The steel mill areas tend to be Democratic, with unions still capable of flexing some muscle. In 2000, Al Gore won Beaver County easily and Lawrence County more narrowly; Democratic Senate candidate Ron Klink won both counties in 2000, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed Rendell in 2002. The suburbs of Butler County are tax-averse and strongly Republican, while the older suburbs in Allegheny County are marginal--more Democratic than Butler, but much more Republican than the city of Pittsburgh. Overall the district's heritage is Democratic but it has been trending modestly toward the Republicans.
The congresswoman from the 4th District is Melissa Hart, a Republican first elected in 2000. She grew up in the Pittsburgh area, graduated from Washington and Jefferson College and the University of Pittsburgh law school. After law school, she worked as a real estate lawyer for a Pittsburgh firm. She was elected to the state Senate in 1990 by defeating an incumbent Democrat and was reelected in 1994 and 1998. As chairman of the Finance Committee, Hart sponsored Pennsylvania's first major tax law change in more than a century; it permits school districts to reduce property taxes by implementing an earned income tax. When Democrat Ron Klink, who had held the seat for eight years, decided to challenge Senator Rick Santorum in 2000, Hart ran unopposed for the Republican nomination in this seat, which had not elected a Republican in 18 years.
In the Democratic primary, state Representative Terry Van Horne unexpectedly led the eight-candidate field, with 24% of the vote; Matthew Mangino--a pro-gun, anti-abortion prosecutor who had been supported by the DCCC--finished second with 15%. A key event in the campaign came the morning after the primary when the NRCC eagerly drew attention to a racial slur Van Horne had used in reference to a black state representative in 1994. Van Horne, who had apologized on the floor of the state House after making the comment, said it had been taken out of context, and the target of the slur accepted Van Horne's apology long ago. But Jesse Jackson Jr. and several members of the Congressional Black Caucus expressed their concern when they learned of the comment. Van Horne and Hart clashed over prescription drug plans for seniors and campaign finance. She touted her labor roots and hoped that her anti-tax, anti-abortion, pro-gun views would play well. With a big fundraising advantage, she won by a surprisingly large 59%-41%, carrying every county.
In the House, she has had a mostly conservative voting record. Republican leaders quickly spotlighted this hard-charging newcomer, tapping her to give the party response to Bill Clinton on the Saturday after her election. She was soon mentioned as a prospective candidate for a party leadership post or for statewide office. "The sky's the limit for her," said a House Republican leader. Speaker Dennis Hastert designated her to serve as a liaison for members' concerns. On the Judiciary Committee, she passed her "safe havens" bill to permit women to leave unwanted newborns in designated institutions. After objections from the Appropriations Committee, she reluctantly agreed not to offer her amendment to bar funds for school-based health clinics that distribute "morning after" pills. She supported antiterrorism measures and said she wanted to focus more on intellectual property and other high-tech issues on Judiciary. On the Financial Services Committee, she worked on details of the money laundering bill after September 11. Despite pressure from the steel industry, she voted for trade promotion authority.
Hart played a key role in Pennsylvania's congressional redistricting. Republicans controlled the process and initially expected her to work to make the district much more Republican. But in 2001 she announced that she wanted to keep Beaver County--the most heavily Democratic part of the district--and that the only change she wanted was to add the North Hills in Allegheny County which had been in her old state Senate district; she got that and the closer-in Pittsburgh suburbs as well. That enabled state Senate Republicans to come up with a plan that created a second Republican-leaning district in the Pittsburgh suburbs, the new 18th District south of the city. Thus Hart shares credit for one of the six seats House Republicans gained in the 2002 election.
After the election, Hart ran for vice-chairman of the Republican Conference against Jack Kingston of Georgia. But Kingston had served longer and won 159-56; still, she is well-positioned to win a leadership post in the future.
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|Group Ratings (More Info)|
|National Journal Ratings
For National Journal's complete 2002 Vote Ratings, as well as previous ratings dating back to 1995, please click here.|
Key Votes Of The 107th Congress
|1. Approve Bush Tax Cuts
|2. Limit Patients' Bill of Rights
|3. Campaign Finance Reform
|4. Ban ANWR Development
|5. Faith-Based Charities
|6. Bar Gays in the Boy Scouts
| 7. Ban Partial-Birth Abortion
| 8. Arm Commercial Pilots
| 9. Trade Promotion Authority
|10. Bar Funds for Intl. Court
|11. Authorize Force in Iraq
|12. Deny Home. Sec. Dept. Union
||Melissa Hart (R)
|Stevan Drobac (D)
||Melissa Hart (R)
||Melissa Hart (R)
|Terry Van Horne (D)
For 1992 and 1996 presidential results in the Fourth District, please see the Almanac 2000 online. Please note that these older returns reflect district lines as they existed prior to 2002 redistricting.
- Cook Partisan Voting Index: R + 3
- District Size: 1,340 square miles
- Population in 2000: 646,476; 78.2% urban; 21.8% rural
- Median Household Income: $43,628; 7.5% are below the poverty line
- Occupation: 22.4% blue collar; 63.7% white collar; 13.9% gray collar; 14.7% military veterans
- Race/Ethnic Origin:
0.1% Amer. Indian,
0.7% Two+ races,
0.6% Hispanic origin
- Click here for statewide demographic data.
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