HART, Melissa A.

HART, Melissa A.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1962–

Biography

Spurred into public service by what she perceived as high taxes and inefficient government, Melissa Hart entered elective politics at age 28, winning a seat in the Pennsylvania senate. After a decade in state politics, Hart was elected to the U.S. House in 2000—the first Republican woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress. Representative Hart focused on pro–life issues and reviving the economic prospects of her southwestern Pennsylvania district.

Melissa Ann Hart was born on April 4, 1962, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, daughter of Donald Hart, a research chemist, and Albina Hart. After her father’s sudden death, Hart and her two siblings worked their way through school to contribute to the family finances.1 Hart graduated from North Allegheny High School and then majored in business and German, earning her bachelor’s degree in 1984 from Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania. She also joined the Young Republicans as an undergraduate. She completed her jurist doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh in 1987. For a while, she practiced as a lawyer in Pittsburgh. In 1990, at age 28, Hart won election to the Pennsylvania state senate. She told a local newspaper that her political career was spurred by a high property tax increase. “I had never thought of running for office until…I realized the money being taken from us wasn’t being spent in an effective way,” Hart said.2 Despite hailing from an overwhelmingly Democratic district, she was re–elected twice by wide margins. During her tenure in the state legislature, she chaired the finance committee, helped implement $4 billion in state tax breaks, and served as vice chair of the urban affairs and housing committee. Phil English, Hart’s chief of staff during her Pennsylvania senate career, later became a U.S. Representative.

Hart’s ambition to serve in the U.S. Congress began in 2000, when four–term incumbent Democratic Representative Ronald Klink retired from his House seat to campaign for the U.S. Senate. Hart entered the race to succeed him. The district encompassed a large portion of southwestern Pennsylvania that included six counties. Though socially conservative, its history of union support usually kept it in the Democratic column. Hart’s platform supported simplifying the tax code, ending married couples’ tax penalties, and increasing economic development in western Pennsylvania, which had missed much of the 1990s high–technology boom. Hart also supported pro–life positions on the abortion debate. She ran unopposed in the GOP primary and won the general election against her Democratic challenger, a state representative, with 60 percent of the vote, becoming the first Republican elected in the district since 1976. In her subsequent two re–election campaigns, Hart won by similarly comfortable margins.3

After arriving at the start of the 107th Congress (2001–2003) in January 2001, Hart was appointed to the three prominent committees: Science, Judiciary, and Financial Services. In the 108th Congress (2003–2005), she was named the vice chair of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution.

Over the course of her career in the U.S. Congress, Representative Hart achieved several significant legislative successes. In the 108th Congress, she authored the Unborn Victims of Violence/Laci and Conner’s Law. The measure, which passed Congress and was signed into law by President George W. Bush, provided that in a federal crime of violence against a pregnant woman in which her unborn child is harmed, the perpetrator can be prosecuted for two crimes against two victims. Hart also opposed the partial–birth abortion procedure and introduced legislation to withhold federal funding from universities that provide their students access to the morning–after birth control pill. Also during the 108th Congress, Hart inserted language into the final signed version of the CAN–SPAM Law requiring sexually explicit e–mails to be labeled to better equip parents to protect their children from Internet predators. Additionally, Hart introduced legislation to assist in the cleanup of old industrial sites (“brownfields”) prevalent in her district and legislation reauthorizing the “Metals Initiative,” which aimed to make the domestic steel industry competitive.

In January of 2005, Hart won a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee. Serving on the powerful committee—with jurisdiction over taxes, Social Security, and Medicare—allowed Hart to work on measures to boost the economy in her district. Along with other lawmakers from steel–producing districts, she urged the Bush administration to impose quotas on imported steel. She backed legislation to help laid–off airline workers at Pittsburgh’s major airline hub. Hart also offered measures to provide business tax breaks to fund Army Corps of Engineers projects in her district and to expand the boundaries of metropolitan Pittsburgh to increase federal aid to the area.

In 2006, Hart faced a tough re–election campaign environment and a well–funded challenger. Democrats held a 60 to 40 percent advantage in her district—a handicap she had been able to overcome earlier by appealing to socially conservative views which were widely held among voters from both parties. But her Democratic challenger, Jason Altmire, a former health care lobbyist and Capitol Hill staffer, tapped into wide voter dissatisfaction with the Republican Party. On election night, as Democrats surged nationally because of discontent with the war in Iraq, Altmire prevailed with a margin of 52 to 48 percent of the vote.

Footnotes

1Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2003): 863.

2Politics in America, 2004: 863.

3“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/electionInfo/index.aspx.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Melissa A. Hart" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Financial Services
  • House Committee - Judiciary
  • House Committee - Science
  • House Committee - Standards of Official Conduct
  • House Committee - Ways and Means
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