Rothfus is sworn in to Congress
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, performs a mock swearing in for Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Pa., and his family Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington as the 113th Congress convened.
Share with others:
WASHINGTON -- You can call him Congressman, but don't be surprised if he doesn't respond. He hasn't yet held the title for a full day, and he's neither used to it nor fond of it.
"The name is Keith," Western Pennsylvania's newest U.S. representative said Thursday, an hour before being sworn into the 113th Congress. "Call me Keith. I think it helps you stay grounded."
The swearing-in was something Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, had been awaiting since he first tried to capture the seat in 2010.
After two tries and three years of campaigning, southwestern Pennsylvania voters handed him an Election Day victory over Johnstown Democrat Mark Critz in a newly drawn 12th Congressional District. The redistricting forced Mr. Critz to run against another sitting Democrat, Jason Altmire of McCandless, in the spring primary.
Outside groups poured more than $10 million into the campaign to help send Mr. Rothfus to Washington.
Since Election Day it's been a whirlwind of hiring staffers, leasing three district offices, boning up on legislation and settling into the fifth floor of the Canon House Office Building, where shelves have yet to be filled with photos of his six children and other personal effects.
Already on hand was the first shipment of Eat'n Park smiley cookies to hand out to visitors. Members are allowed to accept such small gifts from businesses in their home states if they make them available to all office visitors.
Thursday they were offered to dozens of visitors from the district, including the six Rothfus children, who streamed into the office to wish their new representative luck on his first day.
Former Republican Congresswoman Melissa Hart of Bradford Woods was among the well-wishers. She also planned to stop by to congratulate newly elected Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, and to meet Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Lackawanna.
They were among 82 new House members and 12 new senators sworn in Thursday.
"People are going to have to be patient with the new Congress. So many of them are new. It's going to take some time" for them to make their mark, said Ms. Hart, now a practicing attorney with the Pittsburgh firm Keevican, Weiss, Bauerly and Hirsch.
Mr. Rothfus said there's no time to wait.
He said it was frustrating to watch this week's contentious vote on the American Taxpayer Relief Act, which, he said, did nothing to curb spending. Still, he couldn't say which way he would have voted if he'd had the chance.
"I respect the reasons people gave for voting each way," he said shortly before he was sworn in.
The process, rather than the result, was a bigger source of frustration and something he hopes to change.
"Up until noon I'm still just a private citizen, and private citizens across the country wonder what's going on that we have to wait until New Year's Eve -- and not just New Year's Eve, but 2 a.m. New Year's Day -- to have a vote in the Senate that's then rushed right over to the House without any chance to really look at it," he said.
He is motivated by the opportunity to effect change and not dissuaded by the thought of holding just one of 435 votes.
His first chance to weigh in on policy is likely to come today, when the House is expected to take up a $9 billion flood-insurance package aimed at helping pay for damage claims from October's Superstorm Sandy.
Mr. Rothfus said Thursday that he hadn't yet seen the bill. He planned to study it overnight to determine how to vote.
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, welcomed freshmen lawmakers in a short speech after his colleagues re-elected him to a second term as speaker.
"You are likely feeling awestruck right about now. History runs through here, and now you are among a select few to share in this privilege," he told them.
"If you have come here to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as accomplishment you have come to the wrong place," Mr. Boehner said. "If you have come here humbled by the opportunity to serve; if you have come here to be the determined voice of the people; if you have come here to carry the standard of leadership demanded not just by our constituents but by the times, then you have come to the right place."
Mr. Rothfus said he plans to focus on two things during his term: constituent services and spending cuts.
"We need to rein in spending. We don't want to be on the road to becoming another Greece," he said in an interview conducted in a fifth-floor hallway because the congressman's office was overrun with well-wishers.
"The solutions will come from a robust private sector," he said. "The president believes government is the answer, but we believe the answers come from southwestern Pennsylvania; they come from the private sector."
District Republicans are happy to have the seat back in GOP hands and they have high expectations of Mr. Rothfus, said Beaver County party chairwoman Megan Carpenter, who traveled to Washington for the swearing-in.
"With Keith we're always going to know where he stands," she said. "He looks at the broad picture and I believe him when he says he's going to do something. He's a man of his word."
Mr. Altmire, who recently took a lobbying job with Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Florida, offered his well wishes via Twitter.
"Congressman Keith Rothfus, here is the baton. Run with it! Good luck serving the people of Western Pennsylvania," he tweeted Thursday.
Ms. Hart, who served from 2001 to 2007, said she has warned Mr. Rothfus that the job can be difficult, consuming and sometimes lonely.
"He knows what he's getting into," she said. She said she believed he'll be effective in the job.
"His earnestness stands out, and I think that matters," she said. "This is a guy who is very thoughtful and has significant intellectual gifts."
The new congressman is an attorney who spent most of his career in the private sector. He also had a short stint with the Department of Homeland Security, where he led an office that worked with faith-based organizations to provide disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina.
He is a survivor of pancreatic cancer and has been a marathon runner, a member of the Edgeworth Zoning Board and a longtime advocate for lower taxes.
First Published January 4, 2013 12:00 am