“I had a sense that we needed people with experience to step up to try to work together to get things done.”
Since she launched her campaign for the state House, Bibiana Boerio (“call me Bibie”) says she has taken only one day off: a Sunday afternoon to watch the Mr. Rogers’ documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor. She’s from Latrobe, Mr. Rogers’ hometown, and the Democratic nominee for the 14th Congressional district said she identifies with his famous “look for the helpers” advice.
“He would say, ‘when times are scary look for the helpers.’ I think times are scary, but I think I have the experience to help,” Boerio says. “In my family and when I was at Ford, when there was a problem you didn’t sit on the sidelines, you jumped in to try to help.”
Boerio comes from a blue-collar family, and after receiving an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh in 1976, she held various executive positions at Ford Motor Co. and Jaguar Ltd. She was chief of staff to Congressman Joe Sestak, and is a former interim president of Seton Hill University. President Obama nominated her to be director of the U.S. Mint in 2012, but Congress never acted on her nomination.
She said she decided to run for the 14th district seat because she felt the timing was right. “I had a sense that we needed people with experience to step up to try to work together to get things done,” Boerio said.
The district where Boerio is running is the new version of the 14th district, and includes Fayette, Washington and Greene counties and a large chunk of Westmoreland County. Although the district didn’t exist in the 2016 presidential election, the area voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump.
And Boerio is facing a well-heeled Republican opponent in state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler. The most recent campaign finance reports show Reschenthaler’s campaign had raised more than $825,000 as of Sept. 30, compared to the $488,000 raised by Boerio’s campaign.
But she beat three other candidates to win the Democratic nomination, and it wasn’t even close: she won 43 percent of the vote, with her nearest rival receiving only 24 percent.
And despite the district’s distinctly red identity she says she’s connecting with voters who feel neglected by both parties. “No one’s been out to talk to them, they haven’t had people come out to meet with them certainly not from the Democratic party for years and years,” she said. “I’ve had innumerable people say that to me. Some larger communities in Washington and Westmoreland counties have had reasonable attention but the further out you get into the southwest corners of the district, it’s much more apparent.”
Many of those rural voters chose Trump in 2016, but are now unhappy with the way things are going, Boerio adds. “There are some people that are angry but I would say more people are concerned,” she said. “They’re concerned for themselves and for the country. They say to me, ‘I hear all this talk about the stock market and I’m happy it’s high but frankly, it hasn’t trickled its way down to me.’”
Most of the voters she talks to cite economic worries, followed by concern over healthcare and healthcare costs, including the opioid epidemic and the cost of treatment for addiction.
She notes that the unemployment rate has stayed slightly higher and wages slightly lower in these communities. “Against that background is the whole question of rising healthcare costs, and the administration has been playing a game of reverse jenga: instead of seeing how long they can keep things up, they’re trying to bring them down.”
As much as these voters may have wanted change, Boerio says, they didn’t bargain on the chaos of the current administration. She says even some Republican businessmen she’s spoken to are uneasy.
“When I ask them the question: Have you ever been in a big organization or little organization and seen chaos be a successful avenue for success? I haven’t had one of them say ‘oh yeah, I was part of this organization and it was chaotic and man, our stock price went up.’ Because the energy of the organization closes down into self-preservation mode, and that’s not the best environment for creative thinking and not the best for working together,” she said. “I don’t want to blame it all on the administration, but every day there’s some new headline, and it’s like ‘I’d really rather talk about infrastructure. I’d like to talk about healthcare.’”
At 64, Boerio is a bit older than many of the women inspired to run this election cycle, but maintains that diversity requires including people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including those with experience.
“As far as I can tell the position I am running for is called the House of Representatives,” she said. “We need to have people who represent the population, and I think I represent a large portion of the demographic profile of this district. But I’m thrilled there is enthusiasm among the younger generation, and long may that continue.”
She does agree, however, that women are going to make the difference in the midterms. “Women come up to me and say ‘my husband wanted me to vote that way the last time, but I’m not telling him which way I’m voting this time.’”