By Gina Morton

The Daily Item

A Berwick politician says he won't feel pressure in 2011 when he becomes the lone senior member of the state General Assembly representing most of the Valley — as long as freshman state lawmakers work as a team and in bipartisan manner.

"No one is leaving yet," said state Sen. John Gordner, a Republican whose 27th district includes Montour, Northumberland and Snyder counties.

Those set to retire on Dec. 31 are state Reps. Merle Phillips and Russell Fairchild, both Republicans, and Democrat Robert E. Belfanti Jr., who have a combined 80 years in Harrisburg.

"They are all still working hard," said Gordner, who was elected to the state Senate seven years ago after serving 11 years as a state representative. "I've always worked well with three of them, and hopefully, I will work well with their replacements."

Their replacements will represent 67 of the Valley's 77 cities, boroughs and townships.

"Hopefully legislators coming in to replace (them) go in as hardworking individuals who are willing to cross party lines and support each other's local projects," Gordner said.

Merle Phillips

Phillips, of Sunbury RD2, has served the 108th Legislative District since 1980 and has been the Republican caucus administrator since 1995. He is a member of the Rules Committee.

Russell Fairchild

Fairchild, of Lewisburg, the 85th Legislative District's representative since 1989, is the Republican chairman of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, and serves as a member of the Wireless E-911 State Advisory Board and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Council.

He is also co-chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee's Infrastructure Task Force, which studies transportation.

Robert Belfanti

Belfanti, of Mount Carmel, has represented the 107th Legislative District since 1981, and is chairman of the Labor Relations Committee and a member of Rules Committee.

While stressing that the House and Senate are two distinct chambers, Belfanti said Gordner may feel the pressure of being the senior leader for most of the Valley.

"As far as local projects go, John is going to have to step up and do the work of a couple of people," Belfanti said. "John has been a decent guy, and he certainly works hard, has a work ethic."

Belfanti said he can't ignore the effect the loss of he, Phillips and Fairchild will have on the Valley.

"I can't downplay that," he said. "I do think it's going to be an important factor. It's going to take time."

Phillips' and Fairchild's retirement announcements in early January — and the subsequent loss of Valley seniority in Harrisburg — almost influenced Belfanti to run again, despite his health problems.

"My heart was saying one thing, my brain was saying another and my doctor, another," Belfanti said, adding that he may have run had he experienced some improvement in his health.

Gordner, chairman of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee, recalled when Belfanti and Phillips took office within a year of each other.

"They both went in as hardworking, conscientious legislators," Gordner said. "Obviously they worked well and were able to accomplish a lot over the next 30 years."

Although the incoming lawmakers will represent different districts, Gordner said it's important they work together on projects that benefit the region.

It's also important, Gordner said, for House and Senate members to work together, regardless of political affiliation, on issues such as tolls on Interstate 80 and the proposed Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway.

Other representatives

Portions of the Valley are also represented by two General Assembly members with more than one term of experience in Harrisburg: state Sen. Jake Corman, of Bellefonte, whose 34th district includes the Union County borough of New Berlin and the townships of Limestone, Hartley and Lewis; and state Rep. Adam Harris, of Mifflintown, whose 82nd Legislative District includes the Snyder County boroughs of Beavertown, Middleburg and McClure and the townships of Adams, Beaver, Franklin, Perry, Spring, West Beaver and West Perry.

Corman and Harris, Republicans first elected in 1998 and 2002, respectively, are up for election this year.

Gordner is not. Neither is first-term state Sen. Gene Yaw, of Williamsport, whose 23rd district includes the Union County boroughs of Lewisburg and Mifflinburg and the townships of Buffalo, East Buffalo, Gregg, Kelly, Union, West Buffalo and White Deer.

Fairchild said everyone appears overwhelmed when they first enter the Capitol, but an orientation program walks new legislators through the basics of the position.

"It's like a person starting a new job," Fairchild said. "A lot depends on that individual and their willingness to give 110 percent. If I would give my advice to anyone running or who gets elected, that 110 percent is critical."

Freshman lawmakers should not be intimidated, Fairchild said.

"The system, whether we like it or not, is built on seniority in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. There's no doubt about it," Fairchild said. "But that does not mean that a new legislator cannot be effective."

• E-mail comments to gmorton@dailyitem.com

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