The head of the county GOP says party members should feel confident the process to select a ballot replacement for 17th District Republican state Rep. Rod E. Wilt will be as open as possible.

“I feel that we would be failing the people of the 17th District if we don’t do this in an open and above board manner,” Mercer County Republican Committee chairman Bill Kirk said Thursday, a day after conflicting information was reported over who was responsible for telling the public the names of applicants for the position and the committee members appointed to pick the nominee.

Confirming what a state Republican committee official told The Herald Wednesday, Kirk said party chairmen from the district’s three counties — Mercer, Crawford and Lawrence — would indeed be responsible for releasing those names.

The deadline for applicants is today, and Kirk expects to release the list early next week. As of Thursday, he had two applications from Mercer County residents and knew of two other countians who were planning to apply. He believes there are no applicants so far from Crawford or Lawrence counties.

Kirk and the other chairmen are erring on the side of caution when it comes to releasing the names of the recently appointed 14-member committee, however, because it might not meet until a week after the applicants are announced. That would open the “conferees” to dozens of calls from Republicans who might want to influence their decision.

The committee members are volunteers and many are “just regular folks,” Kirk said, and he didn’t want them to have to take “one call after another.”

“We’re trying to protect these people from being inundated for over a week,” he said, but quickly added that the names will be released.

“It will be a transparent process,” Kirk said.

Each of the county chairmen was responsible for appointing committee members in their respective counties. Mercer got 10, Crawford three and Lawrence one. Kirk said he appointed five men and five women, each from a different precinct in the county.

Some people, including Dr. Michael L. Coulter, contend that by naming a Republican candidate in a largely Republican district the committee holds enormous political power because it could actually be determining who represents the 17th District for the foreseeable future. Coulter, an associate professor of political science at Grove City College, said Wednesday it might be the “most consequential vote those 14 people ever cast.”

Kirk wasn’t ready to go quite that far Thursday, but said the committee’s decision is nonetheless very important and “we’re treating it as such.”

Wilt, 42, of Sugar Grove Township, announced last week he would not seek re-election after 10 years in Harrisburg. His announcement came three weeks after he won the nomination running unopposed in the Republican primary.

Democrat Frank Weaver, 56, of Wilmington Township, Lawrence County, won his party’s nomination in May, also running against no opposition, and will face the Republican nominee in November.

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