Pennsylvania Fourth Congressional District
CLASS OF 1984
Former representative Melissa Hart started her political career by running for recording secretary of the student council at her middle school. She lost that race, but that didn’t put an end to her public service aspirations. At W&J, she was politically active, founding the College Republicans on campus along with several friends. Following her political path, she became the first female Republican elected to the U.S. Congress fromPennsylvania in 2000. Often referred to as a rising star, she served on the Republican Whip Team, a group of legislators responsible for guiding the party’s agenda through Congress, and she served on the House’s powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over taxes, Social Security, Medicare, and the authority of the federal government to borrow money.
Hart likes a challenge. In 1990, then a young real estate lawyer, she won a seat in the state senate by knocking on more than 10,000 doors, convincing a district with a Democratic majority to vote for her even though she was a Republican. (She was the first Republican to win in that district in more than two decades.) Ten years later, she won her Congressional seat against even longer odds. One of her most noted accomplishments in the House was the signing into law of her bill, the Unborn Victims of Violence Law, which stipulates that if a federal crime of violence is committed against a pregnant woman and her unborn child is harmed, the perpetrator may be charged with two crimes against two victims. She also was the sponsor of the 529 bill, which made tax-free college savings accounts permanent, allowing a family’s college savings to be spent on tuition, not taxes.
She found many challenges as a student at W&J as well. While known for her conservative politics, Hart remembers that one of her favorite professors was Dr. Jim Donnelly of the history department, a staunch Democrat. “He would challenge me in class, out of class, or wherever, and I loved it,” she recalls. Instead of majoring in history, Hart pursued a double major in business and German, imagining her future in international business. An internship with a local judge changed her mind, and, after taking only one political science course in her senior year, she headed for law school. What she appreciated most about W&J was the flexibility it gave to students, enabling them to change direction, as she did. “From the moment you arrive, the faculty are there to advise and challenge you—like it or not,” she says. “But they will also give you lots of freedom.”