WEXFORD, Pa. — Keith Rothfus faces Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.) this fall in one of the most sought-after House seats in the country — a region that wraps around Pittsburgh from the Ohio border to Johnstown, Pa.
Critz’s campaign and outside Democratic groups are running several ads attacking Rothfus’s background and business experience — but he insists the attacks are factually inaccurate.
2chambers spoke with the Republican (right) on Monday at his campaign office in Wexford, where about a dozen volunteers were making phone calls on his behalf. In his office hangs a signed photograph from the late Jack Kemp, and a poster of Ronald Reagan hangs just outside.
Our interview below is edited for clarity and length and begins with Rothfus’s concerns about his rival’s campaign ads.
Rothfus: I’ve been taking more heat than most people in the country with the ads they have running against me. We put out a rebuttal ad. For example, one of the things they say is that I’m a Wall Street lawyer.
2chambers: Where does that charge come from?
Well, I’ve been on Wall Street once in my life in 1980 as a tourist. I went to see the stock exchange when I was 18 years old. I’m not a Wall Street lawyer, I’m a Stanwix Street lawyer. Stanwix Street is a street in downtown Pittsburgh. One of the clients is Mellon Bank, which merged with the Bank of New York Mellon a number of years ago. And I have for years have done software licensing for Mellon. I’m a transactional lawyer, I negotiate all types of things, but with a particular focus in software licenses.
So I’ll do a software license for Mellon or Bank of New York Mellon, and all of a sudden that makes me a Wall Street lawyer. But I’ve never done securities work for them, never did any of these fancy credit default swaps or whatever. None of that.
By no stretch of the imagination can you describe me as a Wall Street lawyer. If you’re going to do that, you’d have to say that 7,500 people who work here in Southwestern Pennsylvania for the Bank of New York Mellon with good family jobs are Wall Streeters. It shows you how much the people who run those ads don’t know our district.
You’ve run some really interesting, campy ads to introduce yourself to voters. What was the inspiration for them?
You look at campaign ads, they’re a dime a dozen, they’re all the same. We wanted to be a little different to catch peoples’ attention. I like the work that they’re doing.
It’s a cluttered space out there that you have to break through, and we have a message to tell.
You are running in one of the most hotly-contested, sought-after districts, and you’re getting a lot of support from national Republicans and outside groups. And you’re running against a guy with strong ties to former [now deceased] Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.). What’s your message to voters?
We need a person who comes from the private sector, not someone who’s been in government for 15 or 20 years. We need private-sector solutions brought to bare in Washington, D.C., not Washington-centered solutions.
I’m running against a guy who believes that there’s a Washington solution for everything. We know that the solutions are out here in Western Pennsylvania.
If you look at the assault by big government against the private sector, no other region in the country is more affected by the overregulation coming from Washington, D.C.
Give me some examples.
Health care. You talk to any doctor who is concerned about covering his or her costs and look at the failure of policies to address sustainable growth. Then to have something like the Independent Payment Advisory Board come in that’s going to further micro-manage what our doctors are doing. My opponent wants to keep the IPAB in place. It’s one of the most problematic aspects of Obamacare. And it’s not just the IPAB, it’s the whole concept of government-run health care.
When you empower the secretary of health and human services to dictate to every insurance company in the country what they have to have in their plan and then give the power of the secretary to determine what a fair-priced premium is, it’s totally divorced from reality.
What else beyond health care?
You look at what they’re doing with the coal industry. They’re closing five power plants here in Pennsylvania.
It’s the president’s war on coal. It’s overregulation, an agenda-driven regulation regime, not a scientific-driven effort. The president said in 2008, go ahead and build a coal-powered power plant, and I’ll bankrupt you. And in that same talk, he said that electricity rates will necessarily skyrocket – necessarily.
When you take part of our energy portfolio and take it off-line, you’re going to drive up costs for consumers and for businesses. China is not going to stop using coal. This is a world market that we’re competing in, and we can’t give up the key energy asset that we have and not expect there to be consequences.
We need new leadership that’s going to be serious about fixing the regulatory assault we’re seeing from Washington.
Why do you want to be part of such an unpopular institution?
Because I’ve got six kids, and this is what sparked my run back in 2010. I’m looking for leaders who are going to go to Washington for a season, not career politicians. People who understand that the strength of America comes from the private sector, not Washington, D.C.
So how long would you serve?
I think 12 years in either the Senate or the House. I’m saying six terms in the House, more than enough time to get something done. Two terms in the Senate – more than enough time.
Is this for everyone or just for you?
I’m personally pledging not to serve more than 12 years in the House.
So maybe another 12 in the Senate?
Well, who knows, I might just do three terms in the House. This is hard, it’s hard on families; as I said, I’ve got six kids. The idea is that I don’t think we need career politicians being there forever.
One of the legacies of this district or region is that it did benefit for so long from earmarking because of the late Rep. Jack Murtha. Earmarking is kind of a dirty practice or word in Washington right now. Would you ever support bringing home federal dollars for projects?
I’m going to oppose the whole thing. We had a broken process. I’m totally opposed to the way they were doing earmarks. If you have an expenditure that you want, be up front about it, be transparent about it, put it in a bill, bring it to the floor. What we had was a backroom deal, cutting and pasting and after the bill passed. We’d dog-ear certain projects and make sure that the administrators of the project would send money to the district. Totally not transparent.
If you have an idea that you think needs funding, put it in a bill, debate it and bring it to a vote.
If the House established a more transparent way to do earmarking, would you do it?
It depends on what the definition of earmark is. The way the earmark process grew in that manner, that’s what the abuse was.
I’m not about to go and submit a bill so that a particular company gets a project. I will look at bills to, we need something that needs to be done. We have locks and dams. We need to streamline that process, reform that process so that funding for our locks and dams gets done in a timely manner. It’s a critical issue for Western Pennsylvania. We need to make sure we’re taking care of our highways. That’s part of a highway bill; I’ll be supporting bills like that.
Would Jack Murtha win reelection in this political environment?
I don’t know. The district that we have today is significantly different than the district Jack Murtha represented.
Whenever Congress returns to Washington, they’ll have to start working to replace the automatic spending cuts set to take affect in January and the expiring tax cuts. If you defeat Mark Critz, should he be casting votes on those issues in a lame-duck session?
We do not want to have tax increases on January 1st. With a fragile economy, that’s a big part of the fiscal cliff. We need to spare the defense budget, this is a dangerous world.
Frankly, I’m not optimistic that this Congress and the president are going to get together. It depends on the election. It depends on what happens. But I sure hope they address it so we don’t hit the fiscal cliff. I’m anticipating that with a President Romney they’ll be doing some retroactive actions back to January 1st.
What else should we know about you?
I talk about the three R’s, that jobs equals three R’s: Repeal Obamacare. Reform our tax-and-spend policies to make us the most competitive in the world. And relight America with American energy.
There’s another three R’s I tell people about: Romney, Ryan, Rothfus.
And then you can flip it around and talk about my opponent and the three D’s: Debt, doubt and decline.
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost