Election 2008/West: GOP shocks Beaver Dems

Farmer Vogel wins State Senate seat

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Republican Elder Vogel Jr. did not know for sure whether he'd won the 47th State Senate seat until he woke up yesterday morning to milk his dairy cows.

The political newcomer had gone to bed about 12:30 a.m. with a substantial lead over fellow newcomer Democrat Jason Petrella in the Beaver County portion of the district, but with only 22 percent of the Lawrence County votes counted.

He might as well have stayed up, because he was having trouble getting any work done Wednesday anyway, with people offering congratulations. "I'm trying to get some farm work done, and my phone keeps ringing," he said speaking on his cell phone from the barn on his New Sewickley farm.

Mr. Vogel's victory was one of several shockers pulled by Republicans in heavily Democratic Beaver County.

Jim Marshall of Darlington who unseated Mike Veon in the 14th House district in 2006, held his seat rather easily, and Beaver councilman Jim Christiana knocked off Vince Biancucci of Center in the 15th House district.

To top it off, Beaver County voters went for John McCain over Barack Obama 51 percent to 48 percent.

"It's great for Republicans and great for Democrats that want to challenge the current system," said Beaver County Commissioner Charlie Camp, the county's highest-ranking Republican. "It shows that voters here are open-minded."

And, according to Mr. Vogel, they are especially open to candidates who reflect their down-home values.

"I think people wanted to send a hard-working guy, a guy like themselves, to Harrisburg to work for them," he said.

Mr. Vogel, 52, a lifelong dairy farmer, ran his campaign with a relatively simple message.

"I want to restore character and integrity to the job," he said. "I think people are tired of the corruption here in Beaver County."

Of course, his opponent had carried much the same message. Mr. Petrella blasted away at the Beaver County Democratic machine during his primary run, accusing his primary opponent, State Rep. Sean Ramaley as being too closely connected to corrupt elements in the party.

Mr. Ramaley won the primary, but dropped out under circumstances that made Mr. Petrella's words ring true: He was indicted for allegedly holding a no-work job for Mr. Veon while running for office in 2004.

It was only the latest scandal to rock Democrats in Beaver County.

Mr. Veon's reputation is in tatters; he has been indicted himself on charges of giving political bonuses to staffers, and was previously pilloried for engineering the 2005 legislative pay raise. He also came under fire for his loose management of the Beaver Initiative for Growth, a non-profit that was supposed to be encouraging local development.

And Gerald LaValle, who holds the 47th District seat, is retiring under the shadow of two scandals. First, he co-chaired the Beaver Initiative for Growth for Mr. Veon, and second, his wife, Darla, was accused of having an overly cushy job with another questionable non-profit.

"I was telling my wife this morning that we should honor Mike Veon and Gerry LaValle and his wife somehow for their service to the Republican Party," Mr. Campo said.

Criticizing the system may have backfired on Mr. Petrella, though. The Beaver County Democratic leadership was not happy with him, which may have contributed to his 12,000-vote loss in the Beaver County portion of the district.

Mr. Vogel did not have an opinion on all that. "I'm not much of a political number-cruncher," he said. He was just happy with the results and ready to get a little rest and start on the transition process.

His plans for Harrisburg are fairly simple. "I want to continue with the reforms [the current legislature] started," he said, "and I want to start trying to do something to lower taxes. It's going to be hard to do with the deficit we face -- it's not a pretty picture -- but I think that's what we need to try to do."

Beaver County Republican Chairman Martin Matthews said that kind of simple attitude came across throughout Mr. Vogel's campaign, and struck a chord with voters.

"I think as a farmer he came across as having a lot of integrity and a strong work ethic," he said.

"A lot of Democrats in Beaver County are saying, 'I'm tired of the machine,' " Mr. Matthews said. 'I'm tired of the Veon machine; I'm tired of the Center-Aliquippa machine ... 'These people will do pretty much what they want.' "

Brian David can be reached at bdavid@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0086.


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