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Orie cites experience in her bid for Senate

Tuesday, March 06, 2001

By Edward G. Robinson III, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Correction/Clarification: (Published March 8, 2001) Mike Turzai, a lawyer from Bradford Woods, received 14 votes and state Rep. Jeff Habay, R-Shaler, received five in the committee balloting for the Republican nomination for the special election for the 40th District state Senate seat. Both lost to state Rep. Jane Orie, R-McCandless, who got 46 votes and will be the party's nominee in the election March 20. A profile of Orie on Tuesday had Turzai's and Habay's votes reversed.

State Rep. Jane Clare Orie has numerous cards, pictures, posters and plaques tacked on the walls of her McCandless office.

There's a black-and-white photo of the North Allegheny High School girls' basketball team. There's a card with hundreds of signatures near the copy machine. Orie's favorite is a poster of an American flag, designed by kindergartners, with painted hand prints.

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The items aren't just ornaments, but a collection of milestones spanning her five years representing the 28th District. The mementos can be viewed as evidence of a commitment to embrace her constituency.

Orie, 39, is the Republican nominee for the vacant 40th District state Senate seat.

The 40th District includes parts of Allegheny, Butler and Westmoreland counties.

In this election, Orie knows she is the seasoned veteran. She has emphasized her experience as a state representative and former prosecutor as qualifications for the seat.

"I'm a proven entity," she said. "[Voters] should vote for me because of my performance. I'm a full-time legislator."

Her campaign biography is 10 pages long and boasts that Orie brings to the Legislature "extensive knowledge of the law, government and the legal process."

Orie called her run for the Senate seat "a logical, natural progression" in her political career.

She was first elected to the state House in 1996 and last year was re-elected to her third term.

She lives in her childhood home on Montgomery Road in McCandless with her father, John Orie. She is single and has no children.

After receiving her bachelor's degree at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, she received a law degree from Duquesne University. She practiced law for 10 years, serving as state deputy attorney general in the criminal division and an assistant Allegheny County district attorney.

She is one of 28 women in the state Legislature and the only Republican woman House member from southwestern Pennsylvania.

Orie said she has a no-nonsense attitude because of the horrid cases she witnessed as a prosecutor. That experience, specifically her exposure to spousal abuse and juvenile violence cases, has shaped her approach as a legislator.

"I'm real serious because I know what I want to do," she said. "I'm in this because I'm committed to it. I love what I'm doing. I know I'm making a difference."

In January, Orie received the Republican nomination in a contest that was marred by infighting that divided some committee members. She won a majority of votes despite arguments from opponents that the selection process was unfair.

Orie got 46 votes, while state Rep. Jeff Habay, R-Shaler, received five and Mike Turzai, a lawyer from Bradford Woods, got 14.

At the time, Habay said the process was stacked in favor of Orie. Despite that criticism, he's backing her in this election. He said she has a good legal mind and a solid record working for seniors.

"She's a hard worker, someone that spends a lot of time at the office," he said.

Orie said she has taken an exhaustive approach to this campaign. She talks of 20-hour days and calls to Democrats to ask for their support.

In talking with voters, she has set health care, property tax reform and crime prevention as issues for this campaign. Orie said mandating managed care improvements and lowering prescription drug costs are among her concerns.

St. Barnabas Charitable Care Foundation in Richland provides a variety of health-care services, most of them Medicaid funded, for seniors. Orie is a member of its advisory board and a frequent visitor with patients, said Valerie Day Wilden, assistant to the foundation president.

"When you meet nursing home patients it's hard not to get involved," Wilden said. She added that, if Orie is requested, she always shows up.

Orie supports property tax reform but doesn't have a solution to satisfy everyone. She doesn't think eliminating the tax is the right answer.

"It's politically correct to say get rid of it," she said. "But the solution has to be based on everyone working together to decide the best way to do it."

In the House, she has introduced bills to have property taxes phased in over several years, particularly for first-time homeowners or welfare-to-work recipients. She suggests Pennsylvania bring in experts from states such as Michigan where tax reform programs have been implemented.

Criminal reform produces the most fervent talk from Orie. She promotes prevention and intervention programs, especially in schools. She said such steps have reduced juvenile problems.

Last year, she created Schools Together Organizing Prevention, or STOP. Eleven schools in her district participate in the STOP Violence Task Force, with students and teachers from each forming coalitions with other organizations and discussing issues such as bomb threats, drugs and violence.

But the emphasis of the program is on student self-development, Orie said.

The STOP program works in conjunction with the federally funded Community Oriented Schools: Adopt A School program.Orie lumps together the issues of mental health care and crime prevention. She said taking better care of people with mental illnesses decreases random crime. She proposes the state conduct a study to determine how the health-care system is failing to adequately care for people with mental illnesses.

Some bills Orie has introduced, such as crime prevention measures, might appear to have a Democratic flavor to them. Orie doesn't see it that way, though, saying: "To me, I'm as conservative as I can be."

To improve education in the 40th District, she advocates partnerships between technology companies and teachers and students. She would use the North Allegheny School District as a model; it has a partnership with Marconi Communications.

Robert Howard, president of the North Allegheny school board, said Orie has been responsive to her constituency, a fact demonstrated in her push for more special education programs. Beyond that, he said Orie provides copies of new legislation when it's introduced and consistently seeks ideas on how to improve issues.

"I think she has gone beyond what constitutes keeping people informed," he said. "All I can ask for is someone who cares enough to ask and cares enough to review [what we say]."

Orie said she developed her political style from watching her father, who was a physician for 50 years. When he retired, she moved back into his house to help him. Her father is her campaign treasurer.

She said her sense of commitment stems from something her father said after she was first elected.

He told her: "It's an honor to serve, but it's a duty to serve those less fortunate."

Orie said she often repeats that to herself.

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