Politics 2004Week of June 21


The hottest rumor emerging from Pennsylvania’s 4th District these days (Aliquippa-Beaver Falls) is that Democrats will convince their present nominee for Congress, retired policeman Stevan Drobac, to withdraw in favor of 31-year-old Christopher Heinz, son of Teresa Heinz Kerry and stepson of You-Know-Who. Bachelor Heinz, usually described in society columns in gushing terms once reserved for the late John F. Kennedy, Jr., would then square off against conservative Republican Rep. Melissa Hart.

Under Keystone State election law, Drobac–who was also Hart’s Democratic opponent in ’02 and recently revealed he is battling bone cancer–would have to relinquish the nomination by August 9 to get his name off the fall ballot. Should he do so, 4th District Democrats would hold a special convention and designate a replacement–presumably Heinz, whose late father, Republican Sen. (1976-91) John Heinz, represented neighboring Pittsburgh while a U.S. representative from 1971-76. Raised in Washington, D.C., and at his parents’ huge vacation home in Sun Valley, Idaho, Christopher Heinz is now reportedly a registered voter from the family estate in Fox Chapel, which is in the 4th District.

Young Heinz, who worked as a page on the Republican side of the Senate while a teenager, says of today’s GOP that there’s something “a little radical about that party for me.” These days, he spends most of his time as a surrogate speaker for stepfather Kerry. “I’m not planning on it,” he recently told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about a possible challenge to Hart, but quickly added, “I wouldn’t rule it out.”


Like Jack Kemp and Bob Livingston in their House days from New York and Louisiana, Melissa Hart has won in a largely blue-collar and strongly Democratic district without trimming her conservative sails (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 90%). Local leaders in Aliquippa and Beaver Falls don’t hesitate to tell visitors that Hart’s district is home to football legends Mike Ditka and Broadway Joe Namath and to composer Henry Mancini. Even more telling about the 4th is that it is 59% Democratic and last had a Republican House member in 1981-82 (That was Gene Atkinson, who won two terms as a Democrat, switched parties after supporting Ronald Reagan on the tax and budget cuts of ’81, and was then resoundingly defeated as a Republican the following year.)

The 42-year-old Hart, however, has won both of her terms by 3-to-2 margins. As she explained to me before we paid our final respects to Ronald Reagan in the Capitol Rotunda two weeks ago, “the unions here and their members here are more amenable to economic opportunity and growth that comes from tax cuts than they are elsewhere.” Hart, a seasoned hand at supporting and explaining tax cuts while state senate Finance Committee chairman, has voted and campaigned for the Bush tax cuts and is working to make them permanent. The congresswoman particularly singled out the Carpenters and Ironworkers unions, both of which have supported her.

Hart also feels that “[House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi [Calif.] and the national Democratic Party don’t fit with many of the Democrats in my district. Take [Beaver Falls County Commissioner] Dan Donatella, for example. He’s pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment–and that’s not atypical at all of Democrats back home.” For her part, Hart is proud to have National Rifle Association backing and that of “people who hunt and fish, like I do.” In addition, she won high marks from anti-abortion forces as the leading sponsor of the Unborn Victims of Crime bill, which recognizes there are two victims of a crime committed when a pregnant woman is assaulted and adds new strength to the argument that the unborn are living persons. To those who say that the measure–often dubbed the Laci Peterson bill for the celebrated murder of the pregnant woman in California–is another case of federalizing state crimes, Hart insists that “there is a necessity placed on us to federalize some crimes, particularly when federal law enforcement officials are involved.”

Reacting to the possibility of Hart’s being opposed by Christopher Heinz, Allegheny County GOP Chairman Rich Stampahar told the Post-Gazette: “There’s no doubt the Heinz name will have an impact [but] she has a track record and people know what she’s done.”


“My mother never considered herself a feminist, but she certainly was a trailblazer.”

That was Jim May, president of the Air Transport Association, reminiscing with me about his mother, former Rep. (1958-70) Catherine May Bedell (R.-Wash.), shortly after her death on June 1. The first woman to serve in Congress from Washington State, Catherine May (as she was known during her office-holding days) was rare for her era, not just because she was elected without following her husband but because she was a conservative. At a time when the national media gave high-profiles to such Democratic congresswomen as Michigan’s Martha Griffiths and one-termer Coya Knutson of Minnesota, May campaigned and voted as a conservative and, when she left the House, was tied with fellow Republican Tom Pelly as the most conservative member of Congress from the Evergreen State.

Yakima native and University of Washington graduate Catherine Barnes taught high school English while studying speech at the University of Southern California. Like the young Dorothy Kilgallen, she enjoyed a lightning career in radio–beginning as an announcer on KMO Radio in Tacoma and eventually moving to NBC in New York, where she was writer, assistant commentator and producer of the first “Betty Crocker Show.”

Returning to Yakima in 1948 with husband James May, she broadcast on KIT radio and won a seat in the state legislature in 1952. When veteran Republican Rep. (1942-58) Hal Holmes retired in 1958, Democrats felt they could pick up his district with wealthy wheat farmer Fred LaRue. But GOP nominee May and her husband barnstormed the district in a motor home and, with help from their friends in the local Young Republican club and her fans on radio, she pulled off a narrow upset.

Rep. May’s appealing speaking style made her much in-demand at Lincoln Day functions and on radio and TV news programs. She opposed costly foreign aid, the sale of grain to the Communist bloc, and repeal of Section 14(b) –right to work of the Taft-Hartley Act, and postponement of “Great Society” welfare measures until the Vietnam War was settled. She told us (see HUMAN EVENTS, April 30, 1966), her polling showed her constituents favored by margins of 5 to 1, even though LBJ had carried her district by 2 to 1. She also scored the Johnson Administration for suggesting that housewives should buy fewer luxury items to counter inflation. “If they want the reasons for inflation,” she declared, “they have only to look at their own wasteful spending programs.”

Following her initial race, May rarely had tough competition and, in fact, won in 1964 with 65% of the vote as Johnson was sweeping her district. But in 1970, area Democrats recruited a strong contender in State Sen. (and nuclear scientist) Mike McCormack Her conservative history notwithstanding, May by that time had disappointed her fans on the right with her vote to add gender to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and her support for the Equal Rights Amendment. In her defense, this was before Phyllis Schlafly had delineated the dangers of ERA and at a time when many conservatives, even Ronald Reagan, had blessed the amendment. With unemployment hurting national GOPers, McCormack upset May. Old friend Richard Nixon then named her to the U.S. Tariff Commission (now the International Trade Commission). She retired in 1982 to Palm Desert, Calif. She was 90 at the time of her death.


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