The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 10, 2012

Cambria County faces a new political reality

Dave Sutor
dsutor@tribdem.com

— Keith Rothfus often compared his six children to the six counties in the 12th Congressional District when on the campaign trail.

He would conclude many speeches, interviews, conversations and debates by telling voters, “Just like I work hard for all six kids without favorites, I’ll be working hard for all six counties without favorites.”

The Republican candidate eventually won the right to represent the district, which includes all of Beaver County, along with parts of Allegheny, Cambria, Somerset, Westmoreland and Lawrence, thanks to defeating incumbent Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, by an unofficial margin of 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent on Tuesday.

Rothfus is a lawyer from Allegheny County.

So, when he joins the U.S. House of Representatives in January, it will be the first time since Susquehanna Township’s Joseph Gray became a congressman in 1935 that no resident of Cambria County will be serving in the lower chamber. Johns-

town itself has been home to a representative for six decades with Rep. John Saylor (1949-1973), Rep. John Murtha (1974-2010) and Critz (2010-present) serving.

“I think we need to look at ourselves as not from a particular city or region, but be people from southwest Pennsylvania. We need to change that paradigm,” said Rothfus, who plans to open an office in Johnstown.

Even with Rothfus’ assurances of not playing favorites, the loss of having a nearby representative has some Democratic Party politicians and citizens concerned.

Before the election, Critz predicted a Rothfus victory would mean the “area will never see another congressman again.”

State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, whose 35th district includes the Johnstown region, said, “It does not bode well for us. Johnstown is no longer the epicenter of the 12th district. I don’t want to be the red-headed stepchild of the 12th district.”

Mark Pasquerilla, a wealthy Republican backer of Critz, told an audience on Tuesday night: “You don’t know what you’ve had until it’s gone. The whole of western Pennsylvania will miss the leadership of Jack Murtha, who died, and Mark Critz, who lost.

Rothfus received only 37.1 percent of the vote in Cambria.

Still, local Republican leaders greeted the change with optimism, especially since Saylor was the last member of the GOP to represent Johnstown.

Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason, a Cambria County resident, tried to allay worries about the region losing influence. “I think those fears are unfounded,” he said. “People will all find him to be very sensitive to the concerns of the whole area.”

Republican President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder was one of the few people in the county to publicly endorse Rothfus.

“I don’t look at it as a win for the Republican Party,” said Lengenfelder. “I look at it as a win for our area.”

Cambria County Republican Committee Chairwoman Ann Wilson feels Rothfus will have a “positive effect on Cambria County because he’s pro-business, pro-jobs.”

Cambria and Somerset counties are divided between the 12th and 9th, which is represented by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg.

Shuster, who recently announced his candidacy to become chairman of the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, plans to help Rothfus get accustomed to serving in the House.

“Keith and I share the same conservative values as the people of Somerset and Cambria counties,” said Shuster. “He believes in smaller government, letting people keep more of their hard-earned dollars, is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and is pro-life. I look forward to working with him to stop the war on coal, strengthen the middle class and bring jobs back to Pennsylvania.”

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