The Pennsylvania Senate has a powerful voice on state policy, including key issues of gun control, health care, transportation funding, taxes, and natural gas drilling. Here are The Inquirer's recommendations in contested area Senate races.
NINTH DISTRICT Since Sen. Dominic F. Pileggi became the Senate's Republican leader six years ago, he has faced opponents who hope to turn his reelection into a referendum on Harrisburg GOP policies.
That's never been a problem for Pileggi, 54, a former mayor of Chester, who is a cautious moderate and fiscal conservative. In the Republican-leaning Ninth District stretching from eastern Delaware County into parts of Chester County, Pileggi keeps winning.
This fall, the case is being made by Democratic nominee Patricia Worrell, 52, a small-business owner who chairs the Chester zoning board and has been active with Action United advocating for low-income groups.
What should be the top priorities for Pa. lawmakers when they return in January?
Topping Worrell's concerns is Gov. Corbett's austere budgeting, which contributed to cuts in welfare grants, health insurance for the working poor, and education funding. She dings Pileggi and his colleagues over voter-ID rules that could curb voting rights.
Were Worrell to swap places with the senator - including a leadership post - her approach would be refreshing. But the reality is that a Democratic replacement for the majority leader would sit on the back bench. That won't help the district.
During the current term, Pileggi cites the opening of a professional soccer stadium in Chester and the so-far successful efforts to preserve jobs at area refineries. The incumbent also stands behind Corbett's hold-the-line budgeting - which avoided tax increases - as the best means to "put the state in a great position to be more competitive."
In a new term, Pileggi pledges to tackle the state's highway and transit funding needs, and the employees' pension systems. DOMINIC F. PILEGGI is best suited to pursue that important agenda. He deserves reelection.
FIRST DISTRICT In Philadelphia, Democratic Sen. Larry Farnese has pushed statewide issues, including gun control and ethics reform, as well as fought for his district, which runs from the city's southern border through Center City.
His opponent is Republican Alfonso Gambone, a South Philadelphia attorney, former Army prosecutor, and Iraq war veteran.
Farnese helped limit the outrageous DROP program, which gave city workers millions in bonuses out of the sagging pension fund. He fought to stop casino interests from contributing campaign money to the very politicians who would decide their fates, and he authored the first bill setting a mandatory minimum sentence for straw purchasers who sell guns to criminals. A newer version of that law just cleared the legislature.
He has won $15 million to continue dredging the Delaware River, a good second act to his bill creating the Southport Marine Terminal, which will strengthen the city's port business. The Inquirer endorses LARRY FARNESE, 44, of Center City, because the freshman has the mark of a strong leader for Philadelphia.
FIFTH DISTRICT The sprawling Northeast, which takes up most of the Fifth District, is the one place where Republicans might have a shot at taking a Senate seat in overwhelmingly Democratic Philadelphia.
The GOP has fielded a substantial candidate in Mike Tomlinson, 55, of Holmesburg, a former math teacher at Overbrook High School and accountant for the federal government. Tomlinson is well-versed on the issues. He opposes raising business taxes and would support limiting gun purchases to one a month.
But Democratic Sen. Michael Stack, 49, of Somerton, has ably represented this district for three terms. Focused on job creation, he takes credit for helping the Torresdale Health System get state aid to expand. Working with other politicians, he secured funds to raze the Liddonfield public housing development and helped transfer it to Holy Family University.
Stack wants to restore low-cost health insurance to the working poor, which affects 7,000 of his constituents who are mostly single mothers. He has sponsored legislation to abolish the School Reform Commission and replace it with a board controlled by the mayor. The Inquirer endorses MICHAEL STACK because he has been a steady fighter for his district.
19TH DISTRICT Democratic Sen. ANDREW E. DINNIMAN deserves election to a fourth term in the Senate representing parts of Chester and Montgomery Counties. His challenger is Republican Christopher Amentas, 37, an East Fallowfield Township supervisor who cannot match Dinniman's experience.
Dinniman has been a strong advocate on education issues, especially charter school reform. He supported taxpayer-funded vouchers, but he was on the right side in opposing a state takeover of Chester-Upland schools. He brings a bipartisan approach on a broad range of priorities.
In the 17th District,Comprising parts of Montgomery and Delaware counties,In this district, comprising parts of Montgomery and Delaware Counties, Democratic Sen. Daylin Leach faces token opposition from Charles Gehret, a public-relations specialist in a family-owned environmental business.
Leach, a former state representative who moved to the Senate in 2008, has capably represented the district and shown a willingness to take on tough issues. He has supported bills that would legalize same-sex marriage, abolish the death penalty, and legalize medical marijuana.
Gehret, of West Conshohocken, has pledged not to walk in lockstep with the GOP. He would adequately fund public education and mandate better oversight of charter schools. But the incumbent better reflects the district's sensibilities.
The Inquirer endorses DAYLIN LEACH because he has been a strong advocate on issues that matter to his district.