The Lead

Dush announces retirement in 2020; third lawmaker to call it quits this November

By: - November 26, 2019 11:18 am

Then-state Rep. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson. Dush now chairs the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, which is probing the 2020 election (Capital-Star file)

Yet another Harrisburg lawmaker has announced their retirement, the third this November, as preparations for the next election heat up.

Rep. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, said in a statement Nov. 18 that he would not seek a fourth term, keeping a campaign promise he made when he won office in 2014.

Quoting from the Bible, Dush — one of the House’s most ardent conservatives — said despite pleas for him to run again from constituents, he would not go back on his word.

“While I’m flattered and honored by [my constituents] trust in me, I must point out several things beginning with Deuteronomy 23:23, which clearly says, ‘Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the LORD your God with your own mouth,’” Dush said in a statement.

“In short, I must honor my commitment as made unto God.”

An archived version of his campaign website mentions that lawmakers should be limited to “two to three” terms,

Dush, whose 66th District includes all of Jefferson County as well as parts of northern Indiana County, added in his statement that elected offices “were never intended by our Founders to be life-time appointments. It is good to have good people cycle through the legislative offices.” 

Dush, an Air Force veteran and former corrections officer, gained notoriety in Harrisburg in 2012, running a Tea Party primary challenge to then-GOP House Speaker Sam Smith.

The district, in rural northwestern Pennsylvania, had become something of a family heirloom – Smith and his father, the late L. Eugene Smith, had held the district continuously since 1963.

Dush lost that first race by about 600 votes, but Smith opted not to run again in 2014 — ending the dynasty, and clearing the way for Dush, who defeated a Democrat with 70 percent of the vote.

During his time in the House, Dush has frequently voted with a bloc of the most conservative lawmakers to defend gun rights or oppose bipartisan budget deals crafted over the past two years.

Earlier this year, Dush accused Lt. Gov. John Fetterman of stacking his marijuana listening tour with supporters of legalizing cannabis for recreational use. He also frequently questions climate science and cited the work of the Heartland Institute, a free market think tank with ties to fossil fuel companies and a history of spreading doubt about climate change.

Dush was also one of 21 House Republicans to vote against last year’s failed statute of limitations reform push.

Even as the Senate found a compromise this year, Dush never wavered. He, with five other House lawmakers, still voted no on a bill to eliminate time limits to prosecute individuals accused of child sexual abuse. He also, with 15 others, opposed a constitutional amendment to allow retroactive lawsuits. Gov. Tom Wolf signed those reforms into law in a ceremony in Reading on Tuesday.

Dush won nearly 80 percent of the vote while winning reelection in 2018.

Two other House lawmakers — Rep. Steve McCarter, D-Montgomery, and Rep. Steve Barrar, R-Delaware — also announced their retirements this November.

*This story was updated to reflect that L. Eugene Smith was not a House Speaker.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.