LAMARTINE – Finding the name of a local resident on the ballot for a statewide office is a rare sight for voters in Clarion County.
But this year, not only will a Clarion County woman’s name be on the ballot for a statewide position, but she has already received the endorsement of the state’s Republican Party.
Maria Battista, who grew up in Knox and lives in the Lamartine area, said that the past month or so has been a whirlwind as she kicked off her campaign for one of two open seats on the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
While other judicial hopefuls began making campaign announcements following last November’s election, Battista said that because she was working for the federal government with the U.S. Department of the Navy, she was unable to announce her candidacy until she left that post on Jan. 2.
Battista explained that for those seeking statewide office, the first matter of business is securing an endorsement from the state Republican Party. But in order to do that, candidates crisscross the commonwealth to meet with as many county Republican Committees as possible. Their support is needed during straw polling that takes place at regional Republican caucuses each week early in the year.
Including Battista, five candidates were in the running for the Republican endorsement for Superior Court, and the local resident said she felt like the dark horse candidate. She said that Judge Harry Smail of Westmoreland County was the front runner for one of the endorsements, so that meant trying to garner that second spot in the race.
Leading up to the Feb. 4 endorsement, Battista said she was not in the top two spots in the straw polls.
“We were then scrambling again because we knew we needed 22 votes,” she said, pointing out that small counties like Clarion County have two votes, and the entire northwestern caucus only accounts for 44 votes out of 370-plus.
“Four of us were vying for that second spot,” she said.
After Battista tied for first place in the state’s southeast caucus and moved into third place, two of the candidates dropped out the next day.
Each candidate was given time to speak to the committee members at the state Republican Party’s meeting in Hershey earlier this month. During the final vote, Battista captured one of the two endorsements for Superior Court. Smail finished just ahead of her in voting.
Now with the endorsement in hand, Battista said Tuesday that the process of circulating petitions across the state has begun. She said that signed petitions will be collected around the start of March so that they can be reviewed and submitted so that her name appears on the ballots across the commonwealth for the May primary election.
With the internal Republican Party campaigning complete, Battista said the work of running the campaign across the state has begun.
“You have to travel the state,” she said, pointing to a full calendar of meetings and events she has scheduled for the foreseeable future.
Clarion County Roots
Battista spent her early years in the Knox area, where she attended Keystone High School, and took early classes at Clarion University as she worked toward her dream of becoming a concert pianist.
Her father, Frank Battista, served in the U.S. Army during World War II, while her brother, Thomas, served in the Air Force and also graduated from law school.
Following high school, Battista went on to earn two degrees from Clarion University, in elementary education and speech communication.
She then received her law degree from Ohio Northern University, and a master’s degree in education administration from Westminster College. Later, Battista earned a second doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Pittsburgh.
In those years, she said she had two children, Joey and James, and worked as a teacher.
In her 15-plus years in law, Battista has practiced civil, criminal and administrative law; served as assistant district attorney in Venango and Franklin counties; and served as an administrative hearing officer where she issued hundreds of administrative decisions.
Most recently, Battista worked in the Defense Logistics Agency and U.S. Department of the Navy, handling procurement of weapons systems.
Unable to hold a federal job while running for judicial office, Battista is currently the vice president for federal and state contracts for The Judge Group, based in Wayne, Pa.
“In a judge, you’re looking for someone with experience in the law,” Battista said, also noting that voters should also look for candidates with the proper judicial temperament and someone with strong communication skills.
“I do have those skills,” she said, pointing to the more than 300 decisions she authored in several years as an administrative hearing officer.
Judicial candidates need to be fair and impartial, and follow the law, she said.
“I’ve always done that in my career,” Battista said. “Your personal views cannot impact in any way your ability to handle a case.”
Battista said she is humbled and grateful for the support she has already received from the state Republican Party and its members.
“I’m going to work as hard as I can to represent our party and the people of the commonwealth,” she said, adding that as she campaigns, she will also campaign for the other judicial candidates that received endorsements for Superior Court, Commonwealth Court and Supreme Court.
“We can’t make every single event,” she said of the four judicial candidates. “We’re going to work as a team. We have a really nice group of candidates.”
In addition to Battista and Smail for Superior Court, the state Republican Party endorsed Judge Carolyn Carluccio for the state Supreme Court and Megan Martin for the Commonwealth Court.
Battista said that more information about her and her campaign will soon be available online at battistaforjudge.com, and Battista For Judge on Facebook.