John Hugya says he had no intention of running for Congress until he got to thinking about the old days when he worked for the late Rep. John Murtha — when the nation’s business got done and members could put aside their differences and socialize after hours.
Mr. Hugya, who served Mr. Murtha for 23 years, the last seven as chief of staff, also remembers earmarks with an affection that is uncommon today — and Mr. Murtha, of course, was the king of bringing home the bacon.
That misguided sentimentality about the past epitomizes one candidate going before Democratic voters in the May 20 primary for the 12th Congressional District, which straddles six counties — southern Lawrence, all of Beaver, northern Allegheny, northern Westmoreland, southern Cambria and northern Somerset.
Disgust with the earmark era was one factor that led to the Tea Party movement and the fact that the district is now represented by freshman Republican Keith Rothfus of Sewickley, who has a Tea Party-influenced view.
While Mr. Hugya, 79, of Jenner Township, Somerset County, has an admirable record — he is a retired Marine colonel and also had a career in law enforcement — Democrats will be returning to the past if they nominate him.
These are new days and there’s a better choice in the race — Erin McClelland, 39, of Harrison. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Pittsburgh and later obtained a master’s in counseling psychology from Chatham University. She studied alcohol and smoking addiction, then worked in a research center that focused on reducing waste, cost and errors in health care.
In 2006, Mrs. McClelland started Arche Wellness, now a nonprofit that specializes in addiction treatment. Although a political novice, her expertise would serve her well in debates about the Affordable Care Act, in defending it or in suggesting ways it could be improved. Democrats need such a voice.
But she is no ideologue. When asked what she would like to do about guns, she enthusiastically endorsed Republican Rep. Tim Murphy’s wide-ranging bill reforming mental health funding to bring treatment to people with mental health problems who might commit gun violence.
That bill resonates with her professional training, and it illustrates her willingness to seize on good ideas, regardless of party. That’s how to get the nation’s business done. In the 12th District, the Post-Gazette endorses Erin McClelland, a passionate and articulate champion of a fresh approach.
For Democrats in the 14th Congressional District, the primary is a very different kind of contest. Rep. Mike Doyle, 60, of Forest Hills, who has served in the House for 20 years, is being challenged for the party nomination by Janis C. Brooks of North Versailles, who opposed him two years ago.
During an interview with the candidates in 2012, Post-Gazette editors were puzzled why the pastor and social services provider would seek the nomination. Her liberal positions on issues were similar to Mr. Doyle’s, she did not criticize the quality of his service and she failed to articulate why she should be chosen over someone with two decades of House seniority. She said simply that she “would be a voice for the voiceless.”
When the ballots were counted, Mr. Doyle had 77 percent to Ms. Brooks’ 23 percent.
Ms. Brooks, 64, leads the Church of Inclusion International Ministries in North Versailles and is founder and CEO of Citizens to Abolish Domestic Apartheid, a nonprofit that provides family services to the township’s Crestas Terrace neighborhood. She has a doctorate from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
Mr. Doyle has been a vocal advocate for his district, focusing on jobs, economic development, infrastructure and energy. He has stood up to Tea Party Republicans and differed with the Democratic president on Iraq and Afghanistan.
The 14th District includes Pittsburgh and most of central and eastern Allegheny County, plus Arnold and New Kensington in Westmoreland County.
Since there is no Republican on the ballot, the Democrat is likely to win in the fall.
Ms. Brooks deserves credit for helping the less fortunate in her community, but that’s not enough to send her to Washington. The Post-Gazette endorses Mike Doyle for the Democratic nomination.