Former Murtha chief of staff John Hugya announces run for 12th district

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The race for Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District will have a contested primary on both sides. A former aide to Democratic Congressman John Murtha will be announcing his campaign in the coming days, according to BuzzFeed.com.

John Hugya, a former chief of staff to Murtha, will soon announce his campaign for the Pennsylvania congressional seat Murtha occupied from 1974 to his death in 2010, a spokesman said. The seat is currently held by Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus. Political observers in Washington generally consider the seat a tough one for Democrats to win.

Murtha was succeeded in office by Mark Critz, who previously worked as Murtha’s district director. Critz was lost by 3% against Rothfus in 2012, and recently declined a rematch against Rothfus. That left Erin McClelland as the sole Democratic challenger in the race. Rothfus faces his own primary challenger in Larry Stiles, a Marine Corps veteran.

Aside from his work for Murtha, Hugya served as a police officer in Somerset County and was the long-time assistant director of the Johnstown Regional Police Academy. Today, he and his wife run their own shooting range where they also give training to gun owners.

Hugya first met Murtha in 1959 when Murtha was commanding of a Marine Corps Reserve unit in Johnstown. Hugya was a weapons platoon sergeant at the time, was attending college on the GI Bill, and working at the car wash that Murtha owned in Kernville.

In 1967, Hugya worked on Murtha’s first political campaign, an unsuccessful run against Congressman John P. Saylor. Hugya says he worked for every single campaign that Murtha ever ran.

Here’s the rest of the BuzzFeed article:

Hugya brings many of the same qualities Murtha relied on to win the western Pennsylvania district repeatedly, however. Like Murtha, Hugya served in the Marines, retiring as a Colonel. The 79 year-old has a blue collar background, too having spent years working in the Pennsylvania steel industry.

While he was a close associate of Murtha’s for many years during Murtha’s time in Congress, it’s not clear how closely Hugya’s political stances match that of his former boss. Michael Duga, Hugya’s campaign spokesperson said more details of Hugya’s political stances on issues like military action in Syria will emerge in the coming weeks.

“Col. Hugya is running because he believes the people of the 12th District deserve better,” Duga told BuzzFeed. “Col. Hugya holds Chairman Murtha in the highest regard. He’ll run his own race, and as a former Marine Colonel he is very much his own man.”

Hugya’s experience in the district and in politics could make him a formidable candidate, even if the race is an uphill climb for a Democrat. But in addition to his age, which could be made an issue on the campaign trail, Hugya carries some political baggage from his time with Murtha. In 2008, Hugya made headlines when he used $2,000 in Murtha campaign cash to purchase a firearm for himself at a National Rifle Association charity event. Hugya disclosed the purchase as a gift to him from the campaign on a Congressional form and paid taxes on it, leading to questions about whether he violated House ethics rules. Hugya and the Murtha campaign denied any wrongdoing at the time.

About Jake Sternberger

Jake Sternberger has been a contributing writer at Keystone Politics since 2011. Sternberger primarily covers campaigns and elections, drawing from his experience working on municipal, county, congressional, and statewide PA races doing field, communications, and campaign management. He is currently a law student. Email: jakes@keystonepolitics.com Twitter: @JakeSternberger
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