WASHINGTON -- It took Keith Rothfus two elections and more than three years of campaigning, but today he was sworn in as a U.S. Congressman.
Mr. Rothfus, R-Sewickley, defeated incumbent Mark Critz to win the newly drawn 12th Congressional District seat in November.
Since Election Day, Mr. Rothfus has been hiring staffers, leasing three district offices, boning up on legislation and settling into the fifth floor of the Canon House Office Building, where bookshelves have yet to be filled with photos of his six children and other personal effects.
Already on hand was the first shipment of Eat'n Park smiley cookies to hand out to visitors. Members are allowed to accept such small gifts from businesses in their home states if they provide them to all office visitors.
Today they're being offered to dozens of visitors from the district, including the six Rothfus children, who streamed into the office to wish their new representative luck on his first day.
Former Republican Congresswoman Melissa Hart of Bradford Woods, now a private attorney, was among the well-wishers. She also planned to stop by to congratulate newly elected Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, and to meet Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Lackawanna.
They were among 82 new House members and 12 new senators sworn in today.
Mr. Rothfus said it was frustrating to watch this week's contentious vote on the American Taxpayer Relief Act, which, he said, did nothing to curb spending.
He is motivated by the opportunity to effect change and not dissuaded by the thought of holding just one seat among 435 members.
His first chance to weigh in on policy is likely to come Friday when the House is expected to take up a $9 billion flood-insurance package aimed at helping pay for damage claims from October's Superstorm Sandy.
Mr. Rothfus said he plans to focus on two things during his term: constituent services and spending cuts.
"We need to reign in spending. We don't want to be on the road to becoming another Greece," he said in an interview conducted in a fifth-floor hallway because the congressman's office was overrun with well-wishers.
"The solutions will come from a robust private sector. The president believes government is the answer, but we believe the answers come from southwestern Pennsylvania; they come from the private sector."