Western Pennsylvania is home to several contentious congressional races, but the incumbents in the 12th and 14th districts should survive. Reps. John Murtha of Johnstown and Mike Doyle of Forest Hills are the better choices on Election Day, and if you could interview their challengers you'd understand why.
Mike Doyle, 55, is in his seventh term in the 14th District, which includes Pittsburgh and 50 communities in the heart of Allegheny County between Monroeville and Coraopolis and between Reserve and Elizabeth. He is an ardent critic of the Iraq war and supports a mix of solutions to the nation's energy challenges. In September he voted for the sweeping bill that would roll back tax breaks to oil companies, invest in renewable energy sources, require the administration to sell 10 percent of the strategic petroleum reserve and allow limited offshore oil drilling. Last year he voted to raise fuel efficiency standards for U.S. automakers.
He backed the $700 billion economic bailout because he felt it was necessary to stabilize credit markets and that taxpayers eventually will get their money back. As to Iraq, Mr. Doyle says he would remove U.S. troops earlier than his party's presidential nominee, Barack Obama. He believes one of the unfortunate consequences of that war has been loss of control in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he says the next administration must focus attention.
His challenger is Christopher Titus North of the Green Party, an adjunct professor at Pitt and financial editor with Thomson Reuters who ran two years ago. The son of a peace activist, he faults the Democratic and Republican parties for "pulling the country apart" and fomenting a militarism that "is trying to control the world."
Mr. North, 47, of Squirrel Hill has a strong concern for the environment and interest in sustainable energy. He favors a carbon tax, rather than a cap-and-trade system, to curb emissions and he wants to phase out the use of coal, gas, oil and nuclear power. He also wants an Apollo-style program to build a renewable energy infrastructure.
He would have voted against the Wall Street bailout, saying it gives the treasury secretary czar-like powers and Congress only "spectator oversight." He said he would pull out all U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and reduce the number of military bases abroad.
While we commend Mr. North for his passion, we're afraid it would meet with a brick wall in Washington. Mike Doyle is more practical and better suited to working with the range of views in the House, and we endorse him for a new term.
John Murtha is having to fight harder for his seat because the words of the 17-term congressman have gotten him into hot water.
Last week, while analyzing the presidential race in Pennsylvania for the Post-Gazette editorial board, he said, "There's no question Western Pennsylvania is a racist area." Two years ago he said the 2005 killings of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops were done in "cold blood," which drew a defamation suit from a Marine.
If Mr. Murtha, 76, should take more care with his words, he should do the same with his behavior. Known as a master of congressional pork, Mr. Murtha led his House colleagues with 30 earmarks for his district in a spending bill that passed last month; the items totaled $111 million, including $24.5 million for the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown. Last Sunday The New York Times reported, in a story published in the Post-Gazette, that defense contractors, who vie for the congressman's attention as chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, are major contributors to the Johnstown symphony, a favorite Murtha cause.
All that must be weighed against Mr. Murtha's outspoken criticism of the Iraq war, his support for expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, his vote in July to save hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure and his work on bills to counter global warming.
His challenger, Republican William Russell, is making his first run for office. Recently retired from the Army after 28 years of active and reserve service, he says the incumbent, despite a long career of support for the military, has "encouraged the enemy" with his inflammatory remarks.
Mr. Russell, 46, of Johnstown adheres to a less-is-more philosophy of government. He opposed the economic bailout and said much of the crisis was due to an unwarranted social agenda to promote homeownership. He said the market should be allowed to heal itself, which means "some people will lose homes, some will lose businesses and things are going to go down. But when you start trying to protect everybody, that's when trouble begins."
The challenger says government should focus on infrastructure, national defense and law and order. "It's not the government's role to ensure that everyone gets equality of outcome," he said. This survival-of-the-fittest approach may work for Mr. Russell, but not for many residents of the 12th District, which includes Greene County and parts of Allegheny, Armstrong, Cambria, Indiana, Somerset, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
The incumbent may have his warts, but the challenger is not a promising alternative. We endorse John Murtha for another term.