House Speaker Sam Smith announced that the special election to replace the late state Rep. Dick Hess will happen early next year.
On January 28, voters in the 78th District will select someone to serve out the remainder of Hess’s term. He died two weeks ago following complications from leg surgery. He was first elected to the state House in 1978 and served fourteen terms. He chaired the House Transportation Committee.
Since his death happened within sixty days of the November election, the sudden vacancy forced Speaker Smith to declare a special election. There will be no primary election and local committee members from each party will select the nominees in conjunction with the state party.
Because Hess’s successor will serve out the remainder of his current term, the election will take place along the pre-redistricting lines from 2001. Hess represented Bedford and Fulton counties along with a small part of Huntingdon.
The district will take its new boundaries for the November 2014 general election. It will lose its piece of Huntingdon County and add the southwest corner of Franklin County.
It’s a safe GOP district. 61.5% of voters are registered Republicans and just 30.6% are Democrats. Most of the district’s Republicans, 73.7%, reside in Bedford County. 23.1% live in Fulton County and 3.2% live in Huntingdon County.
The first name to emerge as a potential replacement for Hess is Jesse Topper, 31, a minister and a GOP state committeeman from Bedford County. His name surfaced among Republicans in the district and Harrisburg, who said other candidates were also likely to emerge.
Topper, according to his website, is the Executive Minister at the Bedford United Methodist Church and previously served on Bedford Borough Council. He lives in Bedford with his wife and two children.
Topper did not respond to a request for comment from PoliticsPA.
Keegan Gibson contributed to this report.