Republican James Hayes looks to unseat Summer Lee this November
2024 ElectionCandidate believes he can turn District 12 red

Republican James Hayes looks to unseat Summer Lee this November

“I absolutely support Israel,” he said.

Republican Challenger James Hayes believes he can unseat Rep. Summer Lee in Pennsylvania’s 12 District. (Photo by David Rullo)
Republican Challenger James Hayes believes he can unseat Rep. Summer Lee in Pennsylvania’s 12 District. (Photo by David Rullo)

James Hayes believes Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District needs a change.

Hayes is the Republican challenger taking on incumbent Summer Lee, a Democrat, in November’s general election for the house seat that represents Squirrel Hill and stretches from Bethel Park to the Mon Valley, Plum to Jefferson Hills and parts of Westmoreland County.

“We don’t have really good representation right now,” Hayes said.

Whether it’s crime in the region, attacks on the energy industry, job growth or education and school choice, Hayes thinks Lee is on the wrong side of the issue.

“I’m especially concerned about the crime issue,” he said, noting that his son was a victim of gun violence.

“I lost a son a little over a year ago. He was gunned down in the parking lot of his apartment building in New Kensington,” Hayes said. “That was my ‘John Wick’ moment, if you will — when I lost my son. That’s really why I’m in the race.”

The day before his interview with the Chronicle, the candidate noted, a shooting occurred in Squirrel Hill in broad daylight and near Community Day School, where his wife works as a teacher. (Law enforcement officials determined that the shooting was not targeted at CDS and that there were no known associated security risks to the Jewish community.)

The Republican hopeful believes that, if elected, there are several areas where he can make a difference in crime, which he said is largely a local issue.

The first area is congressional oversight and appropriation.

“We hear a lot of noise out of the DOJ about how they’re practicing selective prosecuting,” Hayes said. “They’re putting police departments under pressure because the departments want to keep crime under control and they’re scrutinizing it.”

As a congressman, Hayes said he can help make sure that law enforcement isn’t being undermined federally and that police can do their jobs to keep their communities safe. He said he’ll work to ensure that any legislation introduced as criminal reform won’t favor the criminal over the victim.

He believes it is important that police have the resources they need to do their jobs.

One of his goals will be to ensure there are funds to reopen the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center, which has been shuttered for nearly three years. As a result, Hayes said, young offenders are put back on the street where they can commit more crimes.

“We need to have a place for young people to be rehabilitated and keep them away from the community until they have turned their life around,” he said.

Hayes is a newcomer to politics. Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he has a bachelor’s in international economics from Georgetown University, a master’s in economics and policy from Princeton University, an MBA in finance and accounting from the University of Chicago and a doctorate in business administration from Case Western Reserve University.

He worked at Bankers Trust, now Deutsche Bank, before heading to the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. After moving to Pittsburgh, he worked at Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corp. in Turtle Creek.

The 62-year-old lives in Shadyside with his wife, Brenda, to whom he has been married for 28 years. He has a daughter, Courtney, from a prior marriage, and three children from his current marriage: Brenda Theresa, Angela and Jocelyn.

Hayes’ politics tread close to typical conservative viewpoints.

He supports school choice. As a child, he started his education in a school district that wasn’t working for him, and his family worked to save enough money to buy a house in a better district. Hayes believes that if he had stayed in his original school district, his future would have been completely different.

“I absolutely endorse the idea of letting the money follow the child,” he said. “People say it will be the end of public school. I don’t believe that at all. It will create competition, and I think all schools will get better.”

Hayes said he’s pro-life but believes that abortion laws should be decided by each state.

“I absolutely do not support a national ban,” he said. “I promise to be a firm ‘no’ vote on any national ban.”

As for how the government can help the economy, Hayes believes it starts with energy. He said that President Biden has signed close to 100 executive orders “attacking the energy industry.”

“When you attack energy, you drive up prices across the board, you make the supply chain more expensive, so it’s more expensive to get things to you, [it] makes imports more expensive, so it’s more expensive to manufacture things. So, that drives inflation,” he said.

He isn’t a fan of Biden’s infrastructure bill, either, blaming it for creating “runaway pricing.” The president’s policies, introduced in the beginning of his term, are still driving up prices and creating higher inflation, Hayes said.

Despite believing in free trade, Hayes agrees with the Biden administration on the new tariffs enacted on China.

“China is a serial abuser of fair trade,” he said. “They clamor for it when it works for them and rail against it when it goes against them.”

Hayes said he knows who’s at the top of the Republican ticket this fall, and that it’s time for change in America.

“You look at the border, our economy, the attacks on the energy industry, our loss of standing in the world. Who doesn’t want America to be great? Democrats want America to be great, Independents want America to be great, Republicans want America to be great. Do I want a strong America? I absolutely do,” he said.

As for Israel’s war with the terrorist group Hamas, Hayes said he is a staunch supporter of the Jewish state.

“I absolutely support Israel,” he said. “I think Israel is one of our strongest allies in the world, certainly our strongest ally in the Middle East. It’s a thriving democracy and pluralistic society, no matter how people try to make it out.”

Hamas, he said, broke a cease-fire on Oct. 7.

“It’s unconscionable that people are supporting them,” he said.

Hayes opposes the BDS (boycott, divest sanction) movement against Israel and noted the plethora of innovation that comes out of the Jewish state.

“Why wouldn’t we want to invest in that?” he asked.

As for those who say he has an uphill journey in his campaign against Lee because District 12 has traditionally voted Democrat, Hayes believes he has a strategy to win. It includes duplicating the success Republican Joe Rockey found in certain areas of the district when running against Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato, while counting on parts of Westmoreland County, which, he said, is solidly Republican.

“If you duplicate Joe Rockey, who came within about 8,000 votes, take out Mt. Lebanon, add in the quarter of Westmoreland County that’s in the district, that’s probably good for 20,000 to 30,000 votes,” he said. “I believe I could win by 20,000 votes.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at

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