Before some 80 supporters at a downtown Williamsport restaurant, Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland Thursday night announced his intent to seek the Republican nomination for 83rd state House.
Wheeland, of Loyalsock Township, becomes the first candidate to make public his bid for a local legislative seat.
He told those attending the official kick-off to his campaign at the 33 East restaurant that he will need every vote to win.
"It's going to be a close race," he said.
Wheeland first must secure his name on the Republican ballot in the spring primary.
But he and supporters who spoke on his behalf made more than their share of pointed references at state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, who now holds down the 83rd House seat - even if they didn't name him.
"Talk about what you want in a representative," Wheeland said. "A zebra can't change his stripes. My opponent will attempt to scare the herd. He can't run on his record."
Wheeland said he's a product of Lycoming County who was educated in its public schools and shares the values of area residents.
He noted he's a father and referred to his background as a businessman. He also cited his record as a commissioner who refused to hike taxes on property owners.
He alluded to his service on the state Marcellus Shale Task Force and his advocacy on behalf of environmentally safe drilling practices.
Wheeland said he'll work with state officials to stop illegal drugs from entering the county and fight for pension reform, which he called "a train wreck."
"We can no longer kick that can down the road," he said.
In addition, he said he stands for transparency in government and rejects "partisan political games."
He accused "our current representative" of working for liberal interests.
"This has to change," he added.
State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, said he needs a partner in Harrisburg.
"It's about sending someone to Harrisburg that represents Lycoming County," he said. "We don't have that in the 83rd District."
State Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township said the district needs someone who will back such legislation as Act 13, the gas impact fee law that resulted in $20 million coming to the area.
"Why would someone representing this area vote against it?" he asked.
Yaw said Wheeland is someone with a reputation who gets things done, "a boots-on-the-ground kind of person."
"The greater good will be served by Jeff going to Harrisburg," he said.
Wheeland also got support from Berks County Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach, who called him a "good friend."
He said he's seen how Wheeland works with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and on behalf of various issues.
A 1975 graduate of Montoursville Area High School, Wheeland holds an associate degree in business management from the former Williamsport Area Community College. He also has taken a number of business-related courses at Lycoming College.
He is co-owner of Home Service Beverage, First Ice and is involved in real estate.