Readshaw announces retirement, clearing the way for progressive challenger

    Pittsburgh Democrat Rep. Harry Readshaw, right, announced he is retiring at the end of his current term on Tuesday, January 8, 2020. (Courtesy of Readshaw state Facebook page)

    Facing a primary challenger this spring, a conservative Pittsburgh Democrat has decided to retire rather than run for another term.

    Thirteen-term Rep.Harry Readshaw, D-Allegheny, said in a statement that he’ll leave public life feeling “blessed and humbled” by his 26 total years of service.

    Readshaw, known for taking conservative votes on guns and abortion, was also facing a progressive primary challenge from Jessica Benham, a local advocate for people with disabilities and first-time candidate for office.

    He is the 10th House lawmaker to announce their retirement ahead of the 2020 election, and the third Democrat. 

    First elected in 1994, Readshaw represented a district contorted throughout south Pittsburgh to adjust for Pennsylvania’s shifting population.

    “The 36th District has been reapportioned twice during my tenure and has geographically changed,” Readshaw said in a statement. “Yet, my constituents have honored me with their continual support, and I am very grateful.”

    Before serving in Harrisburg, Readshaw served in the Marines and worked as a funeral home director.

    The 36th House district includes the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Mt. Washington, South Side Flats and Carrick, as well as Mt. Oliver, Baldwin and Brentwood boroughs among others.

    Readshaw, the ranking Democrat on the House Professional Licensure Committee, was known for his focus on preserving historical monuments. As a lawmaker, he often voted as a social conservative.

    That included votes against a bill to keep guns away from convicted domestic abusers in 2018, and to ban abortion in case of a Down syndrome diagnosis last year.

    Reached by the Capital-Star for comment, Benham thanked Readshaw for his service and wished him the best in retirement.

    Benham’s challenge has recently picked up some establishment support with endorsements from state Service Employees International Union council, progressive Democratic state Sen. Lindsay Williams, and three members of Pittsburgh City Council.

    “I was never running just because of one person, I’m running because our communities deserve  a passionate champion at the state level who is fighting for health care, infrastructure investment, workers rights and solutions to the opioid epidemic,” she said.

    Readshaw had faced a primary before. In 2014, he was redistricted into the same district as then-Democratic Rep. Erin Molchany.

    Molchany was backed by local Democrats and unions to the left of Readshaw, but he still triumphed, beating Molchany 60-40 percent that year.

    The district is solidly blue — Gov. Tom Wolf took 70 percent of its vote in his 2018 reelection win, according to election analysts Ben Forstate.