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47th District House Race profile: Gillespie vs. Wascovich

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
State Rep. Keith Gillespie says legislation past several years ago would protect Talen Energy from liability in response to Talen Energy closing access to a popular fishing area on Brunner Island, Saturday, January 13, 2018. John A. Pavoncello photo

Pennsylvania's 47th House District race is a battle between two different generations, as eight-term Republican incumbent Rep. Keith Gillespie takes on state politics newcomer Democrat Michael Wascovich.

Gillespie, a 66-year-old Pennsylvania political veteran, is hoping to protect his seat from 35-year-old Wascovich, who took a break from attending college to try his hand at state politics. 

The district is made up of Conewago, East Manchester, Hellam and Manchester townships; Hallam, Manchester, Mount Wolf, North York, Wrightsville and York Haven boroughs; and parts of Springettsbury Township.

Previously located in Washington County, the district moved to York County after the 2002 elections. Since then, the county has known only one face in the seat: Gillespie.

Originally from Lancaster County, Gillespie moved to York County and worked as a paramedic at Memorial Hospital for 34 years. 

After 16 years in office, Gillespie serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal and State Relations and the Subcommittee on Arts and Entertainment.

His platform consists of lowering taxes, emphasizing school safety and working to implement legislation addressing issues that arose after this year's grand jury report detailing abuse by Catholic priests statewide.

More:Pennsylvania dioceses consider victims’ compensation fund

Following the recently released report, Gillespie highlighted legislation he worked on to criminalize the "grooming" of children by figures in power.

As with many Republican incumbents, Gillespie said his record is what gives him the upper hand in the November elections. But he also says his lack of political bias plays a factor.

"I’ve proven myself," he said. "I’m probably the most apolitical member of the General Assembly. I’m not going to stand on top of the soap box and beat someone up because they’re in a different party."

Gillespie cited some of his recent accomplishments, such as working on bills to give child abuse victims the ability to testify via webcam, downsize the Legislature and increase hotel taxes to improve tourism.

But he said he "isn't really running against anybody," but rather "running for the opportunity to serve."

Wascovich, who is nearly half the age of Gillespie, is running on a vastly different platform.

He serves as a member of the Hallam Borough Council and previously studied political science at Millersville University before taking a break to run for the state House.

Hellam Borough councilman Michael Wascovich, running as a Democrat for the 47th district state representative seat. (Photo courtesy of Wascovich)

As with many Democrats, Wascovich was unhappy with the results of the 2016 elections, which to the progressives' dismay put President Donald Trump in office.

Wascovich decided to put the textbooks aside and learn about politics firsthand.

"I'm young and have fresh ideas," Wascovich said. "We're looking for various new ideas to bring to the table, as the incumbent has the same dog-and-pony show every single election and nothing changes. It's time for a substantial change.”

Wascovich's platform includes reducing property taxes, bringing environmentally friendly policies to the Legislature and improving access and funding to education.

Other priorities include "raising the minimum wage to a living wage," implementing term limits and "strengthening our democracy" through mail-in voting, returning to paper ballots and ensuring better voter security come election season.

Wascovich noted the recent surge in Democratic enthusiasm, commonly called the "blue wave," seems to be more present in federal elections, and fundraising has been a struggle.

But he said he still believes he can make it to the House and help make a change.

"We really have to get our government back on track and go back to representing the people instead of special interests," he said. "I want to see real change happen for our local communities and our state as a whole.”

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.

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