Field set for Delegate race

NEW CUMBERLAND – Tuesday’s primary election ballot in Hancock County will have the names of two Democratic delegates or two Republican challengers who want to remove them from their District 1 seats.

But the party makeup of the District 1 delegation will have to wait because all four candidates will advance to the Nov. 4 election.

Incumbents Ronnie Jones and Randy Swartzmiller, both D-Hancock, are seeking re-election. Mark Zatezalo and Pat McGeehan are the Republican challengers.

Jones, 60, of Weirton, is seeking his third term in the House of Delegates. Retired after 40 years with the Weirton Area Water Board, Jones points to his four-year record on issues such as health care.

“I will continue working hard to make sure our citizens can stay in the area and make a decent living,” Jones said.

Jones currently serves on the Government Organization, Political Subdivisions, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security committees. He also is vice chairman of the Pensions and Retirement Committee.

McGeehan, 34, of Chester, said his general election campaign will be about fiscal responsibility at the state level and constitutional rights.

“I believe in the virtues of constitutional government, and I’d like to be able to aid in that cause and help the folks around here,” he said.

McGeehan was a Republican delegate for the 1st District, which covers all of Hancock County and part of Brooke County, from 2008 to 2010.

Rather than seek re-election, he ran for the state Senate District 1 seat vacated by Sen. Ed Bowman in 2010 and lost in the Republican primary. He ran in District 1 again in 2012 but lost to incumbent Sen. Jack Yost, D-Brooke.

While McGeehan hopes to be part of a new Republican majority in the House of Delegates, he is wary of partisan labels. “I think the Republicans can be just as bad as the Democrats. That’s something the people should realize,” he said.

McGeehan signed up for the District 1 race in January after dropping out of the race for U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s seat.

Swartzmiller, 53, of Chester, is running for his eighth House term and campaigning for the first time as speaker pro tempore. “To me, campaigning is being out and about, talking to people. I do that all the time,” he said.

As November approaches, Swartzmiller said he will focus on the local economy, the state budget and gun rights. In the most recent session, the state legislature had to dip into the state’s rainy day fund to address an anticipated budget shortfall.

“I’ve always seen jobs and growing the economy as the No. 1 issue that’s out there. You always want to have good paying jobs with benefits,” he said.

Zatezalo, 62, of Weirton, is making his first run for public office by focusing on energy policy and public education. A hydrogeologist with more than 35 years’ experience, Zatezalo also is chairman of the Weirton Redevelopment Authority.

“I want to make sure that the state’s energy resources are developed properly,” he said. “Because of the Marcellus Shale, the U.S. is self-sufficient in natural gas. We now produce more natural gas than we use.”

Zatezalo said it’s a “distinct possibility” that the House of Delegates will switch to a Republican majority following the November election. Republicans currently have 47 seats in the 100-seat House.

State GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas told the Wheeling Intelligencer in February that Republicans are fielding candidates for every legislative seat that’s on the ballot this year, while Democrats have left 19 seats currently held by Republicans uncontested.