For a political figure whose career was anchored for more than 18 years in federal government, it would seem a drastic, even an unnatural transition to suddenly seek the second-highest office in Pennsylvania state government.
Not so, says Mark Critz, of Johnstown.
Critz is one of five candidates running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in the spring primary on May 20.
This, after working 16 years as a district director for U.S. Rep. John Murtha, finishing the rest of Murtha’s term in Washington after his death, and then serving a full term in Congress ending in January 2013.
[PHOTO: Candidate Mark Critz. Jamie Empfield/Gazette]
“I worked for a very powerful congressman, but my view was Pennsylvania,” Critz said. “When I went there, I thought I could do some good here. I co-chaired the Marcellus Shale Gas Caucus because it’s important to Pennsylvania, co-chaired the Ohio River Basic Caucus because it’s important to Pennsylvania. I got on Armed Services (Committee) because of all the defense industry in Pennsylvania, and wanted to look after the things that Jack Murtha did. I got on the Small Business (Committee) because in economic development, small business is the engine. I wanted to be in a position to be helpful.”
Also running on the Democratic ticket this year are Harrisburg city councilman Brad Koplinski, state Rep. Brandon Neuman, of Washington County, Bradford County commissioner Mark Smith and state Sen. Mike Stack, of Philadelphia.
Against the others, Critz, 52, said he has the broadest range of experience to hold a statewide office.
“There’s a state rep, a state senator, a city councilman and a county commissioner ... but me, as a former congressman, I think I get it more than anyone,” he said. “You need someone who has actually shown they can get things accomplished. When I worked for Mr. Murtha, I was in the field every day, working with township supervisors, borough officials, county commissioners, state legislators, and state and federal agencies, to cobble things together to get things done. I could do the same thing for the governor, because that’s really what I love. Being out in the field, finding out what works, what doesn’t work and how we can help.”
Critz said that as a congressman, he learned how to both fight against and work with political opponents to get things done, and as Murtha’s district director, he made friends with state representatives and senators of both parties.
And on a ticket that is likely to be headed by a gubernatorial candidate from eastern Pennsylvania, Critz said he offers geographic balance that is even more advantageous to the Democratic Party than Neuman, of southwestern Pennsylvania.
“The (candidates for governor are) all from eastern Pennsylvania and if you’re looking at a lieutenant governor candidate, who brings the most strength to the ticket? Who brings voters you might not otherwise be getting? Me,” Critz said.
Critz said the candidates and parties spent $15 million on advertising in the races he ran for Congress in 2010 and 2012, giving him wide name recognition in the region.
“That’s the Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Altoona and State College media markets. I have a constituency; a core following that will come with me. So I can help deliver a vote from western Pennsylvania for any one of them. So from a strategic campaign standpoint, there is no one running for lieutenant governor that brings to the table what I do. Not even close.”
Pennsylvania’s registered party voters select their candidates for governor and lieutenant governor independently, without regard for political advantage that candidates for U.S. president look for when they hand-pick their vice presidential running mates.
But in the general election, voters get to choose the governor and lieutenant governor candidates offered as a team by each party.
If nominated, Critz would be partnered with the candidate who emerges from the field of four Democrats seeking the party nod for governor, and campaign against incumbent Republicans Tom Corbett and James Cawley in the November election.
Of the gubernatorial candidates, Critz said he could work well with any of them.
“I’ve met with every candidate, to ask ‘what do you see your lieutenant governor doing? If it was me, what would you want me doing?’ But I have actually worked with Allyson Schwartz in Washington. D.C.; I worked with Katie McGinty when she was secretary of DEP; I worked with Rob McCord as a staffer because he was treasurer and then as the congressman. Tom Wolf is the only one I didn’t know beforehand, but we got to know each other.
“They all bring their own strengths and I fit in with any one of them. I think I can bring something to the table for any one of them. Do I align myself with someone? No. They have their race to run, I have my race to run, and I feel comfortable with any one of them.”
Critz said the style of public service that he has developed in his career — one based on helping people to solve their problems, and not advance a personal agenda — is best suited for the job of lieutenant governor.
“Constitutionally, it’s being president of the Senate and chairman of the parole board, but after that, it’s really up to the governor what you do,” Critz said. “I think that with my work with Mr. Murtha and my work in Congress, I bring a lot of tools that I can help.”
Except for casting a tie-breaking vote on deadlocked issues in the 50-member state Senate, Critz, as lieutenant governor, would rarely have the chance to directly influence state policies.
Given the chance, though, Critz said he would advocate for protecting Pennsylvania National Guard from reductions in federal defense spending, enacting a statewide natural gas extraction tax and replacing random impact fees on Marcellus shale drilling operations, and positioning the state to protect the environment.
“We saw coal mining and the scars that it left. Coal mining companies were here, they did their work, and then they disappeared,” Critz said. “The scars have been left to the government. Well, we have to be different with Marcellus shale. We know how to do it wrong, we know how to do it right. We have to make sure some of that money is saved for 50 years from now” to clean up vacated drilling sites.
“This is the greatest economic news we have seen in western Pennsylvania since the industrial age. Manufacturing likes to locate where their energy supply is. We have an opportunity that we have not seen in 100 years and we should take care of it,” he said.
Critz said the state also needs to keep the liquor store system as a reliable source of revenue for the state, and to assure appropriate funding to public education — especially by restoring cuts made during the Corbett administration.
“We’re in a world economy and education is the future of the nation,” Critz said. “China and India will graduate more engineers than we graduate college students. If we’re not competing, not giving every citizen the tools to go on to succeed, then we’re going backward and we’re lowering the quality of our workforce.
“To me, it’s like business. Every year you have to be better — if you’re not striving to do better next year, you’re going backward. So we should always be looking at all forms of education and saying how do we be better, how do we compete more?”
Critz said he used his time in Congress to look out for Pennsylvania’s interests, much as he would as lieutenant governor.
On the Small Business Committee, he accepted chairmanship of the agriculture, energy and trade subcommittees.
“I picked places to put myself so I would have an impact now, but that it would continue to grow,” he said. “As lieutenant governor, I would be used to being behind the scenes and putting myself in places where I could have an impact.”
And that same experience, Critz said, would help him understand his place in a governor’s administration.
“When I went out the door, it was Jack Murtha’s name on the door, it wasn’t mine. My job is to do the best I can and keep in mind everything I do reflects back on him,” Critz said. “As lieutenant governor, it’s the governor’s name on the door. So the governor needs someone who is loyal, someone who is not out there self-promoting. If you get some young folks who are a little more ambitious, are they working for the governor or for themselves?
“And I’ll be 60 in eight years. I’m OK with this role of lieutenant governor. I don’t have any plans beyond trying to win in November and then be the best lieutenant governor Pennsylvania has ever had.”
Critz has served as a political consultant since leaving contest, and has devoted most of his energy to his campaign for lieutenant governor since announcing his candidacy in late 2013.
Critz, a 1987 graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, lives in Johnstown with his wife, Nancy, and their 15-year-old twin son and daughter.