Hollidaysburg contractor and school board member Aaron Ritchey announced his candidacy Wednesday for the 80th state House District, pitting him against nurse and transportation executive Judy Ward in the May 20 race for the Republican nomination.
Ritchey, 52, said his experience on the Hollidaysburg Area School Board - negotiating with unions, overseeing budget plans and avoiding tax hikes - has prepared him for the General Assembly seat left open with 20-year veteran Rep. Jerry Stern's impending retirement.
"I want to be a true, active, small-government conservative," Ritchey, in his third year on the board, said. "We don't have to capitulate to Pittsburgh, Scranton
/Wilkes-Barre and Philadelphia."
While identifying with much of the philosophy behind the anti-tax tea party movement, Ritchey said he would seek to work with Democrats, Republicans and labor unions in a broad move to reduce waste in state government. He decried the polarization in Harrisburg that Stern, R-Martinsburg, has cited as a factor in his retirement.
Gathering a campaign team and preparing a website with the primary four months away, Ritch-ey contrasted his board experience and "hands-on" work with Ward's background. Ward, who made her candidacy official Jan. 2, directs health programs at Altoona-based Ward Transportation and Logistics and sits on the Republican State Committee.
Ritchey named pension reform and business regulation as key issues in Harrisburg, arguing that 401(k)-style pensions for state employees are "more practical." Labor unions, he said, are in a position to make short-term concessions in the name of long-term sustainability.
"A defined-benefits package is a dinosaur. You're never going to see it again," he said, referring to the retirement programs that cover state employees.
Ritchey contrasted the economic boon of natural gas drilling with the fear of punishing business regulations and taxes. While the energy-rich Marcellus Shale covers only part of Blair County, areas like Blue Knob could hold a wealth of gas, he said.
"All I see at the state level is how we can tax and regulate it," Ritchey said in a news release. "We must handle this development carefully, ensuring it is done in a safe, clean manner while not creating extra cost from overregulation and taxes."
Ritchey has been named as a partner in a Duncansville-area natural gas filling station for tractor-trailers.
While he doesn't share Ward's rank in the state Republican Party, Ritchey said his message of shrinking bureaucracy and streamlining state government could secure him the 80th District nomination. He cited victories by state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, and state Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona, as examples.
Like McGinnis, Ritchey promised to limit his terms in office if elected: He would serve no more than 10 years and wouldn't accept state-funded health care or a pension, he said.
"I'm the guy who's got to go in and do the maintenance," he said. "I think I have the track record and the ability to gather support."