It’s anyone’s guess how changing most of the Valley’s state House representation in Harrisburg — overnight — from seasoned incumbents to newcomers will play out beginning in January, but the situation is unprecedented.

“At least in the last 50 years, I don’t remember a time when all three districts were losing their incumbents,” said Donald Ely, Northumberland County state Republican committeeman.

He’s referring to the 85th, 107th and 108th House districts. Those seats are being vacated by Russell Fairchild, Robert Belfanti and Merle Phillips, respectively, who have a combined 82 years of House membership among them. Together, they represent all of Northumberland, Montour and Union counties and much of Snyder County.

The political atmosphere in the Valley seems highly charged in the wake of their announced retirements.

“It is more exciting,” said Northumberland County Republican Committee Chairman Beth Kremer. “It doesn’t happen very often. But all the candidates are qualified.”

It’s true that whoever is sent to Harrisburg will go in as a junior legislator, she said. “They won’t carry the same weight” as Fairchild, Belfanti and Phillips, she said, “but they’ll all work hard to get that back.”

Ely said there’s a good chance all three seats will go to Republicans, even though the 107th leans Democratic. “It promises to be a Republican year,” he said.

Not necessarily, according to Snyder County Democratic Chairman Tom Spangler.

“Those people didn’t go away,” he said of voters who helped get Barack Obama elected, even though the president received fewer votes than John McCain in the four Valley counties.

Spangler praised Democrat Antonio Michetti, of Jordan Township, who twice attempted to unseat Phillips and lost, but who is in the contest again. “If anyone is qualified, he is,” Spangler said.

With Phillips having endorsed his long-time legislative aide, Lynda Culver, and a number of other good candidates in the running, Ely said the 108th is impossible to call. He thinks the 107th is clearer.

As he sees it, if no other Republicans jump into the primary race for the 107th, Kurt Masser, of Elysburg, will be the next representative. Four Democrats are vying for the nomination: Steve Bartos, of Mount Carmel; Myron Turlis, of Kulpmont; Ted Yeager, of Elysburg; and George Zalar, of Coal Township.

Former Northumberland County Republican Party Chairman John E. Meckley warned, however, that Republicans should not take anything for granted. “They still have a lot of people to persuade,” he said.

Nevertheless, Phillips was so popular, Ely said, that he would carry 75 percent of the vote even in a Democratic year. Someone he endorses may have a big leg up, and the other candidates, Sam Deitrick, Stan Geiswhite and Chuck Erdman, also are strong candidates with good name recognition, he said.

Then there’s the “very Republican” 85th. Ely said he thinks the race there will go to the Republican who wins the primary, either Maurice Brubaker or Betsy Snook, of Lewisburg, or Frederick Keller, of Middleburg.

On the other hand, Spangler thinks Democrat Trey Casimir has a good chance in the 85th. Casimir is a Lewisburg Borough Council member. He also serves on the Lewisburg Area Recreation Authority and is known as a fiscal conservative.

“He’s a good guy,” Spangler said. “If people get to know him, he should do well.”

Generally speaking, “It’s time for change,” Spangler said.

“Fairchild and Phillips were in office too long,” he said. “Together, they exemplify the need for term limits.”

Trending Video