Disrupting the drug trade and making sure law enforcement officers receive adequate funding are two ways the federal government can help cities such as Johnstown handle crime problems, according to U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley.
Last year, the city saw a spike in burglaries and assaults. Cambria County has 12 pending murder cases. In a recent report, the Johnstown Crime and Violence Commission described heroin trafficking as the “common denominator” for many of the area’s crime-related problems with housing, education, law enforcement and rehabilitation.
Rothfus discussed the concerns about drug dealing during a meeting with The Tribune-Democrat on Monday.
“We have got to keep the pressure on the drug trade,” said the 12th district congressman. “Drugs destroy lives, simply put.”
Recently, the Richland Township Police Department, FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, Cambria County Drug Task Force and state attorney general’s office worked together to make one of the area’s largest drug busts ever, seizing an estimated $250,000 worth of heroin.
Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan warned the raid could lead to an increase in property crime as users compete for a reduced supply of heroin.
“Drugs is a big problem,” said Rothfus. “It was good news on the big drug bust the other day. But, in talking with some of the local officials, they’re breaking into homes and the feeling is that maybe some of these are the result of people looking for resources to fund their drug habit. As the district attorney was warning on Friday that, with the drug bust, people should be vigilant. That means they’re taking part of the supply offline. Supply and demand works in the underground economy as it does in the overground economy. If there’s less supply, the prices are going to go up. People should be vigilant.”
U.S. Route 219 growth
Rothfus is one of many dignitaries scheduled to appear at a U.S. Route 219 groundbreaking ceremony today.
The event, set for 11 a.m., marks the symbolic beginning of a construction project that will turn the 11-mile stretch of road from Meyersdale to Somerset into a limited-access, four-lane highway. PennDOT started purchasing property for the expansion back in the 1970s, according to Thomas Prestash, PennDOT Engineering District 9 executive.
“This has been a long work-in-progress,” said Rothfus.
Expanding the highway is expected to improve personal and business transportation in the region.
Rothfus talked about the Route 219 improvement in context of the larger subject of infrastructure development.
“We’ve got to make sure we have our roads, our bridges, our locks, our dams in working order,” said Rothfus. “Those are the channels of commerce. Those are how we ship goods around. Those are how people get to and from work. That’s how we keep things being productive.”
In the district
Constituents frequently tell Rothfus about three main concerns.
“It’s jobs, the economy, health care,” he said. “I would say those are the big ones. People want to be taking care of their families.”
In order to figure out more about those concerns and other issues, Rothfus recently mailed out more than 100,000 surveys to district residents.
“It’s good to hear what people are thinking,” said Rothfus. He added, “I tell everybody that I’m just the employee. I’ve got 700,000 bosses and this is a way for me to reach out to the bosses and see what their priorities are.”
Rothfus said his staff has helped resolve more than 300 issues for constituents and responded to over 40,000 inquiries since he took office in January.
After almost eight months in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rothfus admits he gets dissatisfied at times with how the political process works.
“Us freshmen are very frustrated, particularly those of us who come from the private sector,” said Rothfus, a member of the Committee on Financial Services. “This is my first elected office. There are quite a few of us there who this is our first elected office. We’re used to getting things done in the private sector. Myself, I’m an attorney, and I had clients. You had to deliver for the clients.”
So far, he has missed only one of 447 roll call votes, according to govtrack.us.
He sponsored his first bill in June. The proposed legislation, called the Medicare Beneficiary Preservation Choice Act of 2013, would allow seniors to switch between different Medicare Advantage plans during the first 90 days of any year. The three-month window previously existed before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, created a 45-day period in which subscribers could disenroll from Medicare Advantage, but not actually change plans within the system.
“It’s a very simple fix,” Rothfus said.
Rothfus expanded upon why he wants to bring back the window, saying “My district, which goes from the Ohio line over to here, we have the highest number of Medicare Advantage participants in the country of any other district, so I’m very concerned with what’s happening there.”
He added, “There’s a hostility within Obamacare toward Medicare Advantage plans.”
Rothfus campaigned heavily against the PPACA during the 2012 election when he defeated former Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown.
“This health care law is not ready for prime time,” said Rothfus. “It’s never going to be ready for prime time.”
Rothfus wants the United States to maintain what he calls a “robust” defense, but is cautious about the possibility of becoming militarily involved in Egypt or Syria, following lengthy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I am very reluctant to commit any boots on the ground,” he said. “Our troops are exhausted.”
When discussing potential threats to the United States, he said, “We cannot let Iran go nuclear.”
The congressman disagreed with getting involved in the Libyan civil war because he did not feel America had a strategic interest in the conflict.
As a father of six children, who need to be driven lots of places, Rothfus would like to see the development of cost-effective larger vehicles that run on natural gas.
He hopes to see the automobile industry embrace the possibility of using the fuel, which would include the building of fueling stations across the nation.
“Look at natural gas filling stations, what a great opportunity for some investors,” Rothfus said. “There’s a lot of money out there sitting on the sidelines, looking for opportunities. There was no federal program to build gasoline pumping stations back in the 1910s and the 1920s. I would certainly look to the private sector to be coming up with a plan to do that.”
Rothfus thinks development of natural gas could be part of what he calls an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, which he feels needs to include less regulation on the coal industry.
“You can’t take an entire energy asset class, such as coal, offline and not expect that there’s going to be a negative consequence,” Rothfus said.
Honoring Dr. King
Rothfus commemorated the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech by offering a few words of his own from the House floor on Friday.
He cited King’s fight for civil rights as an example of how people of faith have impacted the United States’ history.
“It was a real privilege for me to go stand on the House floor and remind people about this speech and what he was saying,” Rothfus said.
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.