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Laura Ellsworth: a different voice for Pennsylvania's GOP | John Baer

Primary elections sometimes offer voters real choices. The May 15 GOP primary for governor is a good example.

Laura Ellsworth offers GOP voters a different kind of Republican.
Laura Ellsworth offers GOP voters a different kind of Republican.Read moreMatt Rourke / Associated Press

This is just for your consideration. It is not an endorsement. I'll never suggest how you should vote, only that you should vote.

But every once in a while, I come across a candidate who strikes a chord uncommon to the often-clanky music of politics, and I like to point it out.

Laura Ellsworth is such a candidate.

She is, you may know (though I'm betting many don't), a Republican running for governor in the May 15 primary. She's up against fellow Pittsburgher Paul Mango and party-endorsed York County State Sen. Scott Wagner, both with lots more money in the race to face Gov. Wolf in the fall.

Mango and Wagner are fighting over which is more conservative, each seeking to win the hearts of the party's right-leaning base.

Ellsworth is seeking broader, less ideological support at a time when ideology is driving politics — and driving us all apart.

Naturally, she's been given next to no chance to win.

Our campaign-finance laws and closed primaries work against such candidates.

Yet hers is a voice that ought to be heard. It doesn't pander. It doesn't promise impossible things. It has a genuine quality. She talks about people more than about politics. Says she's not in the game to be a politician but to get things done for the people of Pennsylvania, "who've been waiting too long to get things done."

Among things that set her apart, two caught my attention.

One is the level of service to her community, all while working as a big-deal lawyer with leadership roles at the international law firm Jones Day (including running Lawyers Without Borders programs in Kenya).

During a 15-year period in which Pittsburgh achieved a nationally regarded renaissance, Ellsworth headed the local chamber of commerce, held posts with the Allegheny Conference and United Way, helped the city with its pension problems, taught in inner-city schools, worked on getting free legal aid to low-income veterans, and was deeply involved in other civic efforts.

Also, she's from a family for whom service was routine.

Her mother, Grace, was an oncology nurse. Her father, Dr. Robert Ellsworth, was a New York ophthalmologist, the world's foremost expert in retinoblastoma, a rare eye tumor in children that, unless caught early, is often fatal.

Laura Ellsworth grew up around these children and their families from throughout the world. Many stayed at the Ellsworth home while being treated. As a child and later as a teen until leaving for Princeton, she entertained or comforted them.

When their numbers grew, her family acquired an old rowhouse in Harlem to house more of them not far from Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, where her father worked. As young teens, Ellsworth, her brother, and friends helped rehab the house, which became a prototype for the Ronald McDonald House (the first of which opened in Philly in 1974).

"We didn't think of it as public service," she says. "We thought of it as something families do."

She's conservative but eschews labels: "They make us talk past each other." She talks sense. Says, for example, you can't eliminate all property taxes (which her opponents advocate) without hurting school funding. Says (unlike her opponents) she won't take money from the NRA. Says she supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president; in 2016, she wrote him in.

I've heard more than one onlooker, after a debate or an Ellsworth speech, say, "She's no Republican." She says she is.

But she notes that party-backed and GOP primary winners for state offices in Pennsylvania haven't fared well in general elections.

She's right. Looked it up. In eight cycles since 2002 (for governor, attorney general, auditor general, treasurer), Democrats won 13 times, Republicans three times. Each win was Tom Corbett's: twice for AG, once for governor.

The last low-profile candidate I wrote about as different, interesting, and possibly the future was Braddock Mayor John Fetterman in the 2016 Democratic U.S. Senate primary.

He was regarded as "an 8 percenter." He finished with 20 percent, and is currently running for lieutenant governor, with a realistic shot at winning.

Ellsworth's different, interesting, and possibly the future. And, like Fetterman, she has a voice, manner, and experience deserving of consideration.

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