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9th district candidates in scramble

April 16, 2001

9th district candidates in scramble



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - It's an uphill road for all three candidates who will be on next month's ballot to become the new representative for the 9th Congressional District, which includes Franklin and Fulton counties in Pennsylvania.

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Republican Bill Shuster, the son of a 14-term representative, has the name recognition, but some have questioned whether U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster timed his January retirement to enable his son's victory.

Scott Conklin has the difficult task of trying to become the first Democrat to represent the heavily Republican 9th District in decades.

As a third party candidate, Alanna Hartzok will have to convince voters the Green Party is the best choice.

The three began their individual campaigns this winter, after Bud Shuster announced his retirement, citing health concerns for himself and his wife.

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That set off a mad scramble throughout the 11-county region for the parties to select a candidate. Bill Shuster was the obvious choice to fill the GOP ticket, despite an early push in Franklin County for local Rep. Patrick Fleagle, R-Waynesboro.

Scott Conklin, a Centre County commissioner, secured the Democratic nomination in February. The Democrat has run for office several times in the northern counties, but he is not well known in Franklin County.

Hartzok, a Chambersburg mental health counselor and tax reform advocate, was tapped early on by the Green Party as its nominee.

Bud Shuster's January retirement stunned area residents, who were sure the long-time representative re-elected in November would continue to funnel millions of federal dollars into the area for various projects.

Now, voters must choose a new representative in a special election May 15.

Since their individual nominations, Shuster, Conklin and Hartzok have been stumping throughout the region and will face off for the first time today in a 2 p.m. debate at Wilson College in Chambersburg.

Bill Shuster said name recognition has allowed him to kick-start his campaign and emphasize his goals to strengthen the Social Security and Medicare programs.

A conservative Republican, the 40-year-old Hollidaysburg, Pa., Chrysler dealership owner, said his views are similar to President Bush.

"I believe Bush's tax reduction plan is the prescription of what ails the economy," Bill Shuster said last week, following a visit to the Letterkenny Army Depot.

"I want to strengthen Social Security and make sure it is there for those who are retiring, and reform it so it is there for future generations," he said.

If elected, he said he would not support U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, in his push for the more base realignments and closures, similar to what Letterkenny went through in 1995.

"I believe BRAC reductions didn't factor in the cost of environmental cleanup," he said.

Bill Shuster said he became involved with politics with his father's first campaign. Though he has never held an elective office, he said his business background, community involvement and education make him the most qualified for the job.

"I feel very good about the election, but I'm not taking anything for granted," he said. "Campaigning is hand-to-hand, meeting the people to get the message out. I'm trying to run a face-to-face campaign."

Bill Shuster said his sister, Debbie King, is running Shuster Chrysler while he campaigns six days a week. Sundays are typically reserved as family time with wife, Becky. and children, Ali, 12, and Garrett, 9.

He holds a bachelor's degree in political science and history from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., and a master's degree in business administration from American University in Washington.

Bill Shuster, who grew up on a beef farm in Bedford County, said politics were always a great interest.

"But, Dad taught us to go into the real world and then if there was a desire for public service, to do it," he said.

He is adamant, despite rumors surrounding the opportunistic timing of his father's retirement, that it was not contrived.

"I tried to talk him into completing the term, but Dad said the time was now," he said.

"I believe I am the candidate who can hit the ground running in Washington. I can work with leadership of the House to get things done quicker because I have the education and experience," Bill Shuster said.

He also raises questions about his primary opponent, saying Conklin has flip-flopped on issues to appear more conservative.

While it's a shortened campaign, he said whoever is elected will really face one long campaign that won't end until Nov. 2002, when the 9th District seat is again up for re-election.

The Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, will show his support for Bill Shuster at a May 3 rally in Greencastle, Pa.

Meanwhile, Conklin is focusing on several key issues while he works on improving his own name recognition, particularly in the southern counties of the 9th District.

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