A Burgettstown attorney says he’s challenging state Rep. Jesse White in next year’s Democratic primary because he thinks the four-term incumbent has lost credibility with constituents in his district.
Paul Walsh, 49, announced on Thursday that he plans to seek the Democratic nomination for the newly redrawn 46th Legislative District that draws a triangle between Smith Township, Canton Township and Bridgeville.
“My primary focus is to restore leadership to the district,” Walsh said. “Mr. White, through his conduct, has failed to be the type of leader we need both in the district and in Harrisburg.”
Walsh said he decided to run for office in May when it was revealed that White was posting anonymous online comments on various websites under numerous pseudonyms. In some cases, he attacked constituents or impersonated them.
“He essentially has taken sides and has been critical of his own constituents who don’t have the same opinion as his,” Walsh said. “I want everyone to understand clearly that I am willing to sit down and listen to everyone involved in this process.”
White, D-Cecil, countered that he has apologized for his actions and hoped they would consider his track record.
“I’ve been focused on doing my job and not allowing myself to get distracted,” White said of the controversy. “There are so many things that are going on that are so important that I’ve been throwing myself into that work. The response and support from my constituents has been overwhelming. I may stumble along the way, but I think they understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.”
This is not the first time the two have faced each other in the Democratic primary. White and Walsh ran against each other for an open seat in 2006 when then-state Rep. Vic Lescovitz retired. White defeated Walsh 53 to 47 percent, winning the primary by 437 votes before beating Republican candidate Paul Snatchko in the general election.
“I’ve obviously run against Paul (Walsh) before and came out victorious,” White said “I think I can do it again.”
One of the biggest differences in policy appears to surround the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling industry. White has clashed with drilling supporters in the past while Walsh said he supports “shale gas developed responsibly” in the state. However, the new district includes Robinson, Mt. Pleasant, Cecil and South Fayette townships, all of which are challenging the state’s controversial Act 13 natural gas drilling law.
Walsh said he understands those concerns and wants to have a serious discussion with those communities and their residents.
“I recognize their concerns and agree there are definitely quality of life issues,” Walsh said. “I would want to be active working with those leaders to make sure those quality of life issues are completely addressed. I think that it’s appropriate for those folks to be concerned about noise and use of roads and environmental safety concerns.”
Meanwhile, White sees the new district as an advantage as he’s reached out to community leaders and already represents part of South Fayette in Allegheny County.
“I will live smack dab in the middle of my new district,” White said. “I think that will definitely help me.”
Walsh has lived in Burgettstown for the past 17 years and has worked as a solicitor representing various school districts, municipalities and sewer authorities during that time. He also has a private law office in Slovan and works as a probation violations hearing officer for Allegheny County Criminal Court.
White, who has served as a state representative since 2007, lives in Cecil Township and has a law office there.