Incumbent Burns, newcomer Rice prevail in 72nd

Incumbent state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Johnstown, may have earned the most votes in Tuesday’s primary for the 72nd District, but two first-time candidates – including Burns’ Republican challenger – said they were pleased with their performances, as well.

Unofficial election results show Burns captured roughly two-thirds of the 6,500 Democratic votes to win his party’s nomination, which was redrawn in 2011 to include much of the former 73rd District held for close to 20 years by retiring Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton.

Burns won the 72nd District seat in 2008 and had yet to face a primary or general election challenger.

Burns was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but his primary opponent, first-time candidate and small business owner Martin Westrick, 48, of Patton, said he was proud to have gotten as many votes as he did.

“I feel that we gave it our best effort,” Westrick said, “but the voters have the final decision. They chose him over me, so … you move on and work for the next time.”

He said he currently plans to support Burns in the fall.

For the Republican ticket, Phil Rice won a decisive victory by close to 1,600 votes over R.J. Wilson, WTAJ-TV information technology director.

The former Cambria County Fair president and secretary, Rice is an Ebensburg native and retired Army lieutenant colonel.

He said he spent 20 years on active duty and served two tours in Iraq and one in Bosnia-Herzegovina before retiring and moving back into his childhood home.

Rice said his strategy for the fall is to focus on developing untapped energy resources in Cambria County to improve economic development while curbing government spending and revamping the state legislator’s per diem system to require receipts.

“We need to get control of the spending down in Harrisburg, and as legislators, we need to set the example on that … which will get taxes under control,” he said.

Rice said he was shocked and humbled by the support he received as a first-time candidate and promised to work on “problem solving, not party politics” if elected.

Wilson did not return a call for comment. He ran against Haluska in 2012 as the Republican nominee, earning about 38 percent of the vote. He received just over 20 percent of the vote Tuesday, according to unofficial election results.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.