State Rep. Haluska set to retire

Area Democrats sidestepped a potential battle of incumbents in the 72nd House District, with veteran state Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton, announcing his retirement Tuesday morning.

“The job definitely puts your life in fast-forward, and the past 20 years have flown by,” Haluska said in a press release. “I have been blessed with a great staff and overwhelming support from the people of the 73rd Legislative District over the years, and I hope that they feel that we have provided them with the service and representation which they deserved.”

Haluska was first elected in 1994 and often faced Republican challengers, but when state House and Senate lines were redrawn, putting Haluska and much of the former 73rd District into the 72nd, he would have faced a new challenge: taking on one of his own.

Rep. Frank Burns, D-Johnstown, won the 72nd seat in 2008 and has since run unchallenged in both primary and general elections.

That was a challenge Haluska said he didn’t want.

“I had already been thinking of retiring from public life, and now I see no better time to do so,” he said in a press release. “Again, thanks to all who supported and voted for me over the years.”

Although the Democratic field has narrowed, Burns still has one challenger, and he’s also from Patton.

Candidate Martin Westrick, 48, who owns Westrick Supply Center in Carrolltown, said he’d considered running for a few years and once he decided to commit, he began quietly gathering signatures for the primary ballot.

“I just basically came out of the woodwork,” he said Tuesday. “I decided to try to put my hat in the race and give it a try and put a little business sense into some of these policies.”

Westrick said he suspected Haluska would retire, and the official announcement improves his chances to snag some votes from Burns.

“I believe, still … that being an incumbent does not always” carry an advantage, Westrick said. “Maybe they’re looking for a better-qualified person. I don’t know if I am that person or not. I’m just trying to use my business sense to … make the government live within their means.”

Republican candidates Randall J. Wilson and Phil Rice both said Haluska was committed to the district for many years and wished him well.

“We all have to try to get our names out there now,” Wilson said of the remaining candidates. “So we’re all going to be working hard to try to do that.”