Western Pa. delegates to ‘celebrate politics’ | TribLIVE.com
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Jill Cooper speaks after the Westmoreland County Republican Committee voted her as the new party chairwoman on Saturday, June 9, 2012 at Hempfield Area High School. Cooper beat Terry Speer, chairman of New Kensington and Lower Burrell, and will succeed Elaine Gowaty who stepped down. Steph Anderson | Tribune-Review

TAMPA — Jill Cooper remembers yelling at her television set in November 2008 when it became clear that Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona would lose the presidency to Barack Obama.

Cooper, 50, of Murrysville, a retired Alcoa executive turned stay-at-home mom, vowed to do her part to help ensure a GOP victory next time. She dived into local politics and, within two years, became chair of the Westmoreland County Republican Committee.

“I believe you can only complain so much, and then you must take action or quit complaining,” she said.

This week, Cooper is one of 23 women among Pennsylvania’s 72 delegates to the Republican National Convention. A few of the state’s delegates support Rep. Ron Paul of Texas — a Green Tree native who suspended his campaign in May — but Cooper and most others will help nominate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, during the roll call of the states on Tuesday.

The delegation, with 69 alternates, includes two blacks and a Latino. Among its notables are Gov. Tom Corbett, Sen. Pat Toomey, members and ex-members of Congress, state House and Senate leaders and a former White House staffer.

Others are lobbyists, politically active people who lost elections and are eyeing other contests, a pediatrician, a nurse, a maker of iPhone apps, and real estate attorney Louis Oliverio, who wanted to attend a national convention to scratch an item from his “bucket list.”

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Oliverio, 39, of Upper St. Clair, whose interest in conventions began at age 11. The roll call excites him. “It’s a significant historic moment.”

Conventions “allow the party faithful to really celebrate their politics,” said Alison Dagnes, a political science professor at Shippensburg University. “The conventions allow average Americans who are politically active to pull out stops and get super excited about what they believe in.”

Conventions also give people a chance to say, “we stand with this man, and we’re pulling for him,” she said. “That’s a pretty cool thing.”

On average, the trip costs about $3,000, delegates said.

A homemaker and registered nurse, Sue Means is enthusiastic about attending her first convention.

“Obamacare really needs to be repealed,” said Means, 61, of Bethel Park. “We need to get control of the economy. The price of gas has gone up. We should be allowed to drill on our own land. Romney is a savvy businessman, and that’s what we need.”

Alternate Delegate Anthony Destro, 31, who lives Downtown and makes apps for iPhones, supports Paul and hopes some of the congressman’s positions are added to the platform before Tuesday’s final vote.

“It’s really about changing the face of the Republican Party. It’s not about Ron; it’s always been about instilling new ideas into the party,” Destro said.

Counting alternates, Pennsylvania’s delegation includes an estimated 20 Paul supporters.

Melissa Haluszczak, 44, of Coraopolis, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010, said she is “leaning toward Mitt Romney.” She likes Paul but believes Ryan helps the GOP ticket address some of the tough items that Paul took on while campaigning, such as Medicare.

“The Democratic Party has demonized anyone who speaks out to reform Medicare,” Haluszczak said. “The fact remains: It is going to run out of money.”

Mary Ann Meloy, 73, of Harmar attended her first convention in 1968. Meloy, a White House staffer for Ronald Reagan and deputy secretary of Community Affairs under former Gov. Dick Thornburgh, wants the GOP to deliver a message that “the country comes first, the economy comes first” in policymaking.

“I am very conservative. I am pro-life. The bottom line: We as a party need to step in and make this nation strong,” Meloy said.

In the Turzai family, the tables are turned at this convention on who leads the way in politics. State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, is an alternate delegate; his wife, Lidia, a pediatrician, an elected delegate. Granting interviews is not her thing, she said, noting he can take that lead this week.

Delegates said this convention’s theme appears to be putting forth a stern message on the tough choices required to right the economy.

Said Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas of Chambersburg: “The real challenge is we cannot keep going down the same path like we have done for so many years. The reason is we are going broke.”

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].

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