Compiled by Monica Pryts/Allied News Staff Writer
NORTHWEST PENNSYLVANIA —
State Sen. Robert D. “Bob” Robbins, who has spent the last 32 years in the Pennsylvania Legislature, announced on Tuesday he’s retiring at the end of his current term, and at least three candidates are interested in replacing him.
Robbins, 69, a Republican who lives in Salem Township, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1982, serving the 17th House District for eight years until 1990, when he was elected to the 50th Senatorial District after the retirement of Sen. Roy Wilt.
“It has truly been an honor and pleasure to represent the great people of our area as a member of the House and Senate. While the decision to retire has been a difficult one, I now look forward to spending more time with my family and friends as I move into the next phase of my life,” he said in a news release.
The 50th Senatorial District covers all of Crawford and Mercer counties and parts of Butler and Lawrence counties.
Robbins graduated from West Point Military Academy and is a decorated combat veteran with two tours of duty in Vietnam. He is the last combat veteran serving in the Senate and has made veterans’ issues a priority during his legislative career.
He chaired the Senate Veterans’ Affairs committee and was instrumental in establishing the National Guard’s Educational Assistance Program and securing its funding.
Robbins was honored as the first inductee of the Army National Guard Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Air National Guard Hall of Fame for his commitment to the National Guard.
In 2001, he was nationally recognized as a recipient of the Charles Dick Medal of Merit, an award given to elected officials for exceptional contributions to the National Guard.
His other achievements while in office include: the consolidation of the Department of Community Affairs and the Department of Commerce into the Department of Community and Economic Development, a move that has streamlined operations and saved the state millions of dollars; helping establish the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services within DCED, which is a resource for thousands of local government officials across the state; and serving as chairman of the Senate Local Government Committee and the Local Government Commission, a bicameral service agency dedicated to local government issues.
The 50th District has had several “firsts” with Robbins in office including: the first location of the state’s successful Land Recycling Program, known as “Brownfields Legislation,” which returned shuttered industrial sites to productive, job-creating workplaces; the site of the first charter school; and the site of the first Keystone Opportunity Zone, a local economic development incentive program.
Robbins has also done work on behalf of sportsmen like the Mentored Youth Program, and is a strong advocate of the individual’s right to bear arms.
Also, he held the Senate leadership positions of Majority Policy Chairman from 1997 to 2000 and Majority Caucus Secretary from 2001 to the present, and credits much of his success to his dedicated staff.
“I could not have accomplished what I have without their support and dedication. But most importantly, I have been blessed to have the unwavering support of my wife, Cindy. I’m forever grateful for the many friends I have made and for the opportunities I’ve been given to serve,” Robbins said.
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Three candidates have officially announced their intent to run for Robbins’ seat:
• Michael Muha, a Democrat from Hermitage, announced his candidacy in July;
• State Rep. Greg Lucas, Edinboro, R-5th District, announced his candidacy Tuesday; and
• State Rep. Michele Brooks, Jamestown, R-17th District, on Thursday announced her intent to seek the Republican nomination.
Muha, 30, in a news release thanked Robbins for his service, both as a senator and an “American hero” for serving the country in the Vietnam War, especially since Muha had a grandfather who served in World War II.
Muha’s campaign to be the next senator of the 50th District is moving forward with the new year as he continues to bring his message of “common sense and pragmatism” to the campaign trail.
“Since my announcement to run for state Senate in July, I have met with many northwestern Pennsylvanians desiring new political leadership in the 50th District. Their stories have inspired me to fight to improve the lives of all residents of the 50th District,” said Muha, a private practice lawyer with an office in Hermitage; the Hickory High School graduate earned his law degree from the Cleveland Marshall College of Law.
If elected, Muha said he would fight to create an environment for family-sustaining jobs, quality public education, and to promote innovative solutions to repair the economic and communal stagnation that affects many communities from Sharon and Meadville to Titusville and Grove City.
Charlie Rice, chairman of the Mercer County Democratic Committee, said he is expecting a battle for the seat. Rice said he is certain he will be in contact with people from Erie and Crawford counties about the position in the future.
One other potential Democratic candidate from Mercer County is Ken Ammann, a former Mercer County commissioner.
“I did think I would be interested,” Ammann said Tuesday, noting he had previously said “if Bob decides to retire, I would give it some thought. I have not made a decision. I’m thinking about it. I’m somewhat interested.”
Lucas, who was elected in 2012 to represent the 5th District, covering northern Crawford and southern Erie counties, said he has a lot of strong support in Crawford County.
“Mercer County will be a hard sell,” he said, but he is confident that he can win the nomination, noting he spent $20,000 in his last campaign and has $40,000 for his Senate campaign.
Lucas, 53, a former teacher and contractor, said the news of Robbins’ retirement will leave a “leadership vacuum, not easily replaced. But it also leaves the people of Crawford, Erie, Mercer and Warren counties with a new choice...in...what kind of representation they want in the senate,” he said in a news release.
Lucas, whose current term representing the 5th District ends Dec. 31, served as mayor of Edinboro and on council, and has pledged to serve no more than two terms in the senate if elected to ensure fresh ideas.
He also held public hearings on and voted for liquor privatization, and as an avid hunter has worked with sportsman’s clubs and the Pennsylvania Game Commission to make sure hunters’ voices are heard on a number of issue.
Lucas is a graduate of General McLane High School and holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial education from California University of Pennsylvania. He and his wife Rose Foulkrod have a son, Zach, a student at Edinboro University.
Brooks has served the 17th District, which includes parts of Crawford, Mercer and Lawrence counties, since she was elected in 2006.
“After careful personal consideration and thoughtful discussions with my husband and children, I have decided to seek the nomination for the state Senate,” she said in a news release.
Robbins has served with “distinction and honor” and can never be replaced, said Brooks, who believes that if elected, she can bring the same principles that have guided her as a member of the State House - accessibility, hard work and strong ethics.
As a member of the State House, Brooks said she has been an aggressive advocate for this area and has served on the House Republican’s Job Creation Policy Development Committee, focusing her work on removing hurdles to economic development while recognizing the important role the Port of Erie plays in local and international economies.
Brooks said she has helped secure critical state resources for economic development and job creation throughout the region, and examples of her accomplishments can be seen in Crawford County development areas, the former Damascus-Bishop Tube, the Reynolds East Business Park and the Canadian company Noise Solution’s relocation to Mercer County.
She said she also fought to bring resources to Pymatuning State Park and to help preserve the Linesville Spillway.
“My husband Guy and I both grew up in northwestern Pennsylvania and didn’t think twice about raising our children here,” she said. “It should come as no surprise that when I ran for the legislature, I promised to speak up for the northwest region and all of rural Pennsylvania. Our great state is very diverse and we need to make sure that our small towns and cities don’t get any less attention than big cities like Philadelphia.”
Brooks serves on the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, supporting changes to the state’s inheritance tax and realty transfer tax laws that protect family farms; she’s also a member of the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee and has been a vocal supporter of numerous other initiatives.
The general election for Robbins’ seat takes place this fall with the winner beginning their term on Jan. 1.
The district’s boundaries are changing next year, which may bring new names to the forefront. The 50th District in 2015 will include Crawford and Mercer counties, parts of Erie County from Edinboro to Corry and western Warren County.
The Meadville Tribune contributed to this story.
Published Jan. 4, 2014, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.