Westmoreland Democrats look to rebound after recent slide

| Thursday, May 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Republican successes in Westmoreland County have the once-dominant Democratic committee looking for answers and a new approach.

To that end, the party that once held nearly every elected position in the county has hired its first executive director and plans to conduct a series of meetings this summer to brainstorm ideas about how to rebound.

“There is a lot of work we need to do to rebuild the party,” said Ted Kopas, the lone Democrat on the county's three-person board of commissioners. Until last year, Democrats held the majority on that board for nearly six decades.

“It can't be the way it was but it has to be the way it should be in 2013 and beyond,” Kopas said.

Republicans appeared to end the party's decades-long slumber when candidate George Bush won a majority in Westmoreland County during the 2000 presidential campaign.

The Westmoreland GOP reached the zenith of its success in 2011 when it took a majority in the commissioners' office and swept all of the row office races up for grabs.

This year, Republicans are looking to continue its takeover of county government by winning the last three row offices held by Democrats.

Earlier this month, Democrats suffered another blow and were shut out when Republican judicial candidate Meagan Bilik DeFazio won both the GOP and Democratic nominations for the one available opening on Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court.

According to the latest statistics compiled by the election bureau, Democrats still hold a large registration edge over Republicans in Westmoreland County. There are 122,303 registered Democrats and 90,833 Republicans.

A decade ago, Democrats held a 2-to-1 voter registration edge over Republicans.

With the Election Day losses mounting, party officials are hosting a series of regional meetings this summer, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday at Panera Bread, Greengate Centre, Route 30, west of Greensburg.

Those meetings are designed to explore how to reinvigorate the party.

“I'm trying to focus on what we can control,” Kopas said. “There is a time and a place to consider external factors but now our focus has to be from within,” Kopas said.

For the first time, the party has hired an executive director.

Loyalhanna Township native Jesse Walker has taken over the day-to-day duties of running the committee. Walker, 32, is a University of Massachusetts Law School graduate who has been on the job since March.

He said he wants to re-energize the party, fill more than 200 vacancies — about a third of the total positions — on the local committee and push a stronger message on local and national issues that he says will sway local voters.

“We're looking to reconnect,” Walker said. “We're looking to recapture the momentum.”

GOP Committee Chairwoman Jill Cooper said her party's successes are the result of a strong committee effort as well as its message.

“Our message resonates with Westmoreland County people. That type of message crosses party lines,” Cooper said.

Cooper said the GOP committee's organization has been ahead of the curve, working for years with an executive director.

In April, Republicans hired Bruce Eberly of Scottdale as its latest director.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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