By Jane Smith
The announcement Monday by state Sen. Bob Robbins about his upcoming retirement has brought both accolades for his work as well as speculation about who may run to succeed him in the office he has held for nearly 24 years.
Robbins, a Greenville High School graduate who has served in the state Legislature for 32 years, said Tuesday that his age played a part in his retirement. Robbins was first as a member of the House 17th District from 1983 to 1990. The 17th District includes parts of Crawford, Mercer and Lawrence counties.
In 1990, Robbins was elected to the state Senate, representing the 50th District, which includes all of Crawford and Mercer counties and parts of Butler and Lawrence counties.
“I will be 70 (in August). It’s time,” he said. “I am very grateful to the people of the 50th District. I have extremely enjoyed it.”
While he has been given a lot of credit by others for what he has done for the district, he credited the people of the Crawford County area — especially those in the tool and die industry — in helping lead to his successes.
“Small businesses learn to solve their own problems,” he said.
As far as who may succeed him, Robbins said he “has heard of a number of people. After (Tuesday), there may be a lot of names pop up.”
The district’s boundaries are changing next year, which may bring new names to the forefront. The 50th District in 2015 will include all of Crawford and Mercer counties, parts of Erie County from Edinboro to Corry and the western side of Warren County.
Robbins’ advice to candidates is simple. “Once you make the decision to get into the race, then run hard,” he said. “Once you make the decision, then you go for broke.”
Candidates are surfacing
At least three names have come to the surface immediately — two Republicans and one Democrat. The general election for Robbins’ seat takes place this fall, while the winner will begin his or her term on Jan. 1, 2015.
Republican state Rep. Greg Lucas of the Fifth District formally announced Tuesday he will be a candidate. Republican state Rep. Michele Brooks of the 17th District has not announced her candidacy, but political sources indicate she will likely seek the nomination, as will Mike Muha, a Democrat from Hermitage.
“Bob has a lifetime service for our area. He’s earned our respect,” Brooks said Tuesday. “He’s represented our area with distinction and devotion and has been a very strong voice in the Senate for this area and will have hard shoes to fill because of his seniority and he’s just so passionate about what he does.”
Brooks declined comment about her future intentions, saying Tuesday was a day to “focus and reflect on Bob’s distinction and public service to the area.”
“It’s very, very exciting,” Crawford County GOP Chairman Jody Leech said of Robbins’ retirement. “He deserves a long and happy retirement, but it’s sad for us. He’s been a good friend and great senator to the county and all of us. He has brought a lot of things to the county and done a lot of work for the taxpayers. He’s a good American, dedicated to everyone. It’s exciting, but we will miss him terribly.”
As to who may run for the position, Leech said she has had “several phone calls. There will be all kinds of people on both sides I’m sure,” speaking about the Republican and the Democratic parties.
Virginia Richardson, Mercer County Republican Chairman, agrees with Leech’s assessment.
“We have been fortunate,” she said of Robbins’ service, noting she was glad that once he finished his military service that included two tours of duty in Vietnam, he “came home to make it a better place to live.” She said one big advantage of having Robbins in the Senate was his leadership.
Richardson praised Robbins for his “dedication and always looking out for the people” and that “it’s going to be a challenge to whomever steps into the position to fill his shoes.”
Charlie Rice, chairman of the Mercer County Democratic Party, said he is expecting a battle for the 50th District seat. Rice is certain he will be in contact with people from Erie and Crawford counties about the position in the future.
Diane Adsit, chairman of the Crawford County Democratic Party, reiterated Muha’s candidacy but didn’t have any information on the possibility of a Crawford County Democrat running for the seat.
One other potential Democratic candidate from Mercer County is Ken Ammann, who is a former Mercer County commissioner.
“I did think I would be interested,” Ammann said Tuesday, noting he had previously said “if Bob decides to retire, I would give it some thought. I have not made a decision. I’m thinking about it. I’m somewhat interested.”
At the same time, Ammann said he was glad “to see Bob give advance notice so people have the opportunity to run for it,” noting Robbins is a “good and ethical man and I have a lot of respect for Bob Robbins.”
Republican state Rep. Brad Roae of the Sixth District, the third member of the House who serves Crawford County along with Lucas and Brooks, said he won’t run for the Senate seat.
“I like it in the House. I like what I do,” Roae said. “I am already building a little seniority and by going over to the Senate I would have to start all over again.”
Robbins’ retirement will have a “huge” impact on the 50th District, Crawford County Commissioner Jack Lynch said.
“On the face, you have a lifelong public servant ... who understood the system and was effective in effecting change,” Lynch said. “He understood the lay of the land. He was initiative driven.”
Lucas said Monday night he had told Robbins “from the get-go” that he would be interested in succeeding him. Noting Lucas will lose his Fifth District position in the House next year because of the redistricting plan, he said, it makes his Senate candidacy a viable one.
Lucas said he has worked hard and has a lot of strong support in Crawford County.
“Mercer County will be a hard sell,” Lucas said, but he is confident that he can win the nomination, noting he spent $20,000 in his last campaign and has $40,000 for his Senate campaign.
Lucas praised Robbins, noting, “You can’t meet a better guy. He is the salt of the earth; a friendly guy who is willing to talk with anybody, any time. It will be a big adjustment (to the district).”
Gary Clark, who worked with Robbins for 17 years as his district office manager, said, “In the 17 years I worked with him, I can say he was and is among the finest men I have ever known. He always put the needs of his constituents first.
“Not everyone agreed with Bob, but they respected and liked him,” Clark said. “He crossed over party lines to make things happen.”
Mark Turner, executive director of the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County, was not available for comment on the impact Robbins’ retirement may have on the 50th District.
Did you know?
State Sen. Robert Robbins will be the longest serving senator from the 50th District when he retires at the end of November. He will have served 24 years since 1990.
The history of that district shows only six men have served as a state senator from the 50th District, which was created in 1947. All have been Republicans.
Rowland Mahany of Titusville served 11 years from 1947 to 1958 and then was succeed by Raymond P. Shafer of Meadville, who served from 1959 to 1962, when he became lieutenant governor. Mahany then served again from 1963 to 1968.
James Willard of Mercer County served from 1969 to 1970 when R. Budd Dwyer of Blooming Valley was elected. He served until 1981 when he became state treasurer. Roy Wilt of Mercer County was elected in a special election to succeed Dwyer and served until his retirement in 1990.
— Jane Smith