With Mike Hanna Sr.’s retirement, voters in the 76th state house district are about to choose a new representative for the first time since 1990. They’re faced with a choice between two very different candidates.
Hanna’s son, Mike Hanna Jr., ran unopposed in the 76th district’s Democratic primary. Stephanie Borowicz, a former teacher who lives in McElhattan and ran unsuccessfully against Hanna Sr. in 2016, passed through the Republican primary without a challenger.
The 76th district, which covers all of Clinton County and rural parts in the north and east of Centre County, has changed a lot since Hanna Sr. was first elected. Like many parts of rural America, it’s become very red over the last 30 years, said Chris Ellis, a political science professor at Bucknell University.
“Clinton County was two-to-one Trump or something like that, and the part of Centre County is certainly more conservative than the rest of Centre County sort of at large,” he said in a phone call. “So it’s kind of you know the rural district, the kind of district that’s been trending Republican for quite some time.”
The numbers back up Ellis’ points. When Hanna Sr was first elected, the 76th was a political battleground. Republican Senator Arlen Specter lost the district to Democrat Lynn Yeakel by just under 200 votes in 1992.
But in 2016, Republican Senator Pat Toomey won the district by more than 6,000 votes.
And the 76th delivered nearly two and a half times as many votes to Donald Trump as to Hillary Clinton. Ellis sees a clear trend.
“At some point this seat is going to turn Republican, I just don’t know if its 2018 or not,” Ellis said.
But despite the district landslide for Trump in 2016, Hanna Sr. was able to fend off Borowicz, who lost by about 1000 votes in her first ever run for office.
Hanna Jr., like his father, frames himself as a centrist Democrat, talking about gun rights and working across party lines.
“You have to be able to find those moments where it makes sense to compromise and move the ball forward,” he said. “But also there’s when times where things just don’t make sense and you’ve got to make sure to be independent and show that.”
Mike Hanna Jr. has lived in Clinton County his whole life. He graduated from Central Mountain High School in 2001 and earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Lock Haven University, where he’s now a trustee. Hanna has spent his entire career working in Clinton County and Pennsylvania state government, including his most recent job as the deputy secretary of legislative affairs for Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration.
Politically, Hanna’s platform is focused on jobs and education, calling for increased funding in both areas.
Hanna also says he wants to implement changes to the way Harrisburg works.
“One, a lobbyist gift ban. Lobbyists shouldn’t be giving gifts to legislators,” he said. “And we’ve had some late budgets. I don’t think legislators should get paid if they can’t pass a budget on time.”
Hanna says he also wants an independent commission to draw the lines for Pennsylvania’s congressional districts.
He says the fact that he’s a local makes him the best option to represent the 76th.
“Because I’m a lifelong resident, I think that’s important. I think you need to know the district that you’re representing. I think you need to know not only the areas but the problems that they’re having,” Hanna said.
The Republican nominee, Stephanie Borowicz, was born and raised in Orlando, Florida before attending Vanguard University, a Christian school in Orange County, California. She’s a former fourth grade teacher, and moved to Clinton County in 2009. She and her husband, who is an associate pastor, have three sons.
Borowicz is running as a Christian conservative and references the Bible often in her campaign. She says that message makes her best to represent the 76th district.
“It’s overwhelming how many people in this district … that their values, their morals are exactly where I stand. And I think that’s why I can connect with the people in this district and why I choose to run.”
On the issues, Borowicz says she’s a down-the-line conservative.
“I kind of go by three things that I say at most doors,” she said, “less taxes, less government regulations and less government spending.”
She’s pro-Second Amendment and ardently pro-life. She says she’d like to see legislation restricting abortions in Pennsylvania.
Borowicz has never held a job in government, but she wears that as a badge of honor, comparing herself to President Donald Trump, without naming him.
“I think my lack of experience in the political quote-unquote world is an excellent thing,” she said. “I think we see that at the top down right now the people are resonating with a man that’s never been in a political experience before and is choosing to do the right thing.”
The area has seen several sons with the same name take over their fathers’ seats, including Centre County Representative Jake Corman and Senator Bob Casey.
And political scientist Ellis says that may help Hanna Jr.
“Now obviously the wrinkle here is that the guy’s son is running,” he said. “And that makes a pretty significant difference both from the name recognition perspective and also the fact that some people may just show up and not even realize that it’s a different Mike Hanna this time.”
Tor Michaels, chief of staff for Centre County representative Scott Conklin, says Hanna Sr. passed his commitment to his constituents down to his son.
“When you dedicate your life to public service the way the Hanna family has, it should mean a lot to those who are going to the polls,” he said.
But Borowicz says these political legacies should be avoided.
“When you say political legacies, that makes me want to kind of vomit myself, because I don’t think that we have like political legacies in America.”
On election day, voters will choose between the new guy with the old name, and the political newcomer in the now much more popular Republican party.