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What the end of Tim Murphy's 15 years in Congress means for constituents

| Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, center, resigned from the House amid revelations of an extramarital affair. Murphy is an anti-abortion lawmaker, but he allegedly urged his mistress to get an abortion when he thought she was pregnant.
Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, center, resigned from the House amid revelations of an extramarital affair. Murphy is an anti-abortion lawmaker, but he allegedly urged his mistress to get an abortion when he thought she was pregnant.

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy's career in Congress, undone by a marital scandal and allegations that he mistreated staffers, formally ends Saturday when his resignation from office takes effect.

Staff members in the eight-term congressman's Washington and Western Pennsylvania offices will remain in place until a new representative chosen in a special election takes office. A date for that election hasn't been set.

The Clerk of the House of Representatives will oversee Murphy's soon-to-be former offices. The 707,000 constituents living in the 18th Congressional District that includes Allegheny, Westmoreland, Washington and Greene counties won't have a representative to vote on their behalf in the House, but they will be able to turn to the Washington and district offices for services such as Capitol tours, flag requests and casework such as assistance with government benefits and IRS problems.

Staffers typically handle constituent services, not elected officials, and those in Murphy's office should be able to continue their work with little interruption, said Philip Harold, a professor of political science at Robert Morris University in Moon.

“I don't think the citizens in the 18th District are going to be that much worse off with just having the staff to work with,” Harold said.

Harold said if reports of Murphy's mistreatment of staffers are true, his offices might be more peaceful places starting next week.

“In a way, his office was so dysfunctional, it's probably going to operate more smoothly without him,” Harold said.

But Harold said the district is losing a representative who had worked his way up through the ranks to obtain influence in the House. First elected to Congress in 2002, Murphy was chairman of an Oversight and Investigations subcommittee and a member of several other subcommittees.

Harold said it will take time for anyone who replaces him to cement the influence Murphy had — influence that can benefit constituents.

Murphy spokeswoman Carly Atchison said the office doesn't plan to release specific information about interim operations until next week.

The clerk of the House of Representatives currently oversees the office of former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who resigned June 30, two months after he said he would not seek re-election because he wanted to return to work in the private sector.

Constituents searching online for Chaffetz's office are redirected to the House clerk's website, where they can find contact information for Chaffetz's former offices and general information on the vacancy.

Murphy submitted a letter of resignation to House Speaker Paul Ryan on Oct. 5 following a report that Murphy had asked a mistress to get an abortion when he thought she might be pregnant. Murphy is married with an adult daughter and has had a staunchly anti-abortion voting record in Congress.

In a public statement issued the same day he gave the resignation letter to Ryan, Murphy said, “In the coming weeks I will take personal time to seek help as my family and I continue to work through our personal difficulties and seek healing.”

The legislative tracking website GovTrack.us shows that Murphy voted on 11 House resolutions and motions since then, with his latest votes being cast Oct. 12. They included measures to provide additional disaster relief, offer more protections for whistleblowers and name several post offices. Murphy's office didn't say whether the votes were cast on the House floor or remotely.

Murphy's congressional website didn't promote any of the votes. It hasn't posted a news release since Oct. 4, when Murphy issued a statement saying that he wouldn't seek another term but planned to spend his “remaining months in office continuing my work as the national leader on mental health care reform, as well as issues affecting working families in southwestern Pennsylvania.”

Likewise, Murphy's congressional Twitter account and Facebook page have been dormant since Oct. 3.

Murphy's original plan to remain in office changed under pressure from Republicans who felt his hypocrisy on the abortion issue had inflicted a fatal political blow and that the scandal surrounding him would make it impossible for him to be effective while serving out his term. Murphy, who was unopposed in the past two elections and won comfortably in his previous campaigns in the solidly Republican district, had about $1.5 million in his campaign committee's bank account as of Sept. 30, campaign finance records show.

Once Murphy's resignation takes effect, Gov. Tom Wolf has up to 10 days to notify county election boards in the 18th Congressional District of the vacancy and schedule a special election that will take place at least 60 days after the notification. The special election could be held on the same day as the scheduled May 15 primary, under state law.

Venteicher and Fontaine are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach Venteicher at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher. Reach Fontaine at 412-320-7847, tfontaine@tribweb.com or on Twitter at @FontainePGH.

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