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Kiski Valley officials don't see 12th Congressional race as Obama referendum

| Monday, April 26, 2010

The special election to fill Rep. John Murtha's seat on May 18 is attracting a barrage of TV ads, phone surveys and money from the two national political parties.

Many in Washington see the race as a national referendum on the Obama administration.

But several long-time political observers in the Alle-Kiski Valley don't see it that way, at least not yet.

Democrat Mark Critz of Johnstown, Murtha's district director, is running against Republican Tim Burns of Eighty Four, a former business owner, in the special election to fill the seat for the remainder of 2010.

• Lower Burrell Councilman David Regoli, and a Democrat long active in Westmoreland County politics, said, "I really don't think this race will be a national referendum on the Obama administration. People are looking for a congressman who can help this area, like Murtha did.

"People criticize 'pork' or earmarks, but they aren't bad things," Regoli said. "We benefitted from Murtha. Look at the bridge at Burrell Lake Park that Murtha helped us build. And he had a representative at Lower Burrell city hall once a week to help residents with benefits like Social Security."

• Kathy Starr, chairwoman of Allegheny Township supervisors, changed her registration last fall from Democrat to Republican, and she is very unhappy with the expansion of the federal government's role. But she thinks most local voters want a congressman who will bring money into the district.

She thinks Burns' background as a businessman will help "put us on the right economic track, and will get Pennsylvania working again. I have three adult children and 14 grandchildren. The children are all hard-working and self-employed, but they are going to have a heck of a time educating their kids."

• Democrat Terry Van Horne of Lower Burrell, a former state representative who ran for Congress in 2000 against Republican Melissa Hart, said most people in the Alle-Kiski Valley don't get into the "inside the Beltway" issues that dominate Washington politics.

"As Bill Clinton's people said, 'It's the economy, stupid.' While there may be an uptick in consumer confidence and the economy, people here are still worried, whether they can pay for their kid to go to college or get back to work."

And he thinks people want earmarks and federal grants.

"Absolutely, that's what people want," Van Horne said. "The people in Tarentum or New Kensington or Vandergrift want a congressman they can go to for help, whether it's for flooding repairs or grants for sewer separation projects. That's what they look for."

Regoli said GOP TV commercials tying Critz to the recently passed health care bill are unfair, since Critz was not in Congress and did not have a vote.

"I think both Critz and Burns are moderates," he said. "They are both anti-abortion, pro-gun. They are centrists, and that's what I think we need in Washington for compromise. I think it is the fringe candidates who are liberal or conservative that have been causing the gridlock."

Van Horne is surprised some polls show the race a dead heat, but Regoli isn't.

The multi-county 12th District covers large portions of Westmoreland and Armstrong counties in the Alle-Kiski Valley, as well as Cambria, Indiana, Fayette and Greene counties.

Overall, party registration in the large geographic district is 2-1 in favor of Democrats.

Regoli knows that even though Democrats have a wide margin in Westmoreland County, people in Lower Burrell don't vote along party lines. President Obama lost Lower Burrell in 2008.

"Republicans don't cross over in their votes, but Democrats do," he said.

Starr disagrees with that. "Democrats here in Allegheny Township are very loyal. They will stay with their candidate."

There are two elections on the May 18 ballot: the special election between Critz and Burns to finish out the remaining six months of Murtha's term, and the other to choose primary party nominees to run in November to serve a full two-year term beginning in 2011.

Starr is active in the GOP primary election to choose a candidate to run in the fall election. She is supporting Bill Russell, while her husband is supporting Tim Burns.

She thinks both would be good candidates, but likes Russell's strong stand on defense and security.

Additional Information:

In the Valley

In the Valley, the 12th Congressional District includes: Allegheny Township, Apollo, Arnold, Avonmore, Bell, Bethel, Burrell, Cadogan, East Vandergrift, Ford City, Ford Cliff, Freeport, Gilpin, Kittanning, Kiski Township, Leechburg, Lower Burrell, Manor Township, Manorville, New Kensington, North Apollo, Oklahoma, Tarentum, Vandergrift, West Leechburg and parts of Brackenridge, East Deer, South Buffalo and Washington Township.

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