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When the Pennsylvania General Assembly reconvenes in January after the November election, there won’t be a Wilt in its ranks for only the second time in more than a half-century.

State Rep. Rod E. Wilt of Sugar Grove Township, R-17th District, unexpectedly announced Wednesday he won’t be seeking re-election.

Citing a strong desire to spend more time with his family, Wilt said in a one-page news release that since circulating his nominating petitions for the 2006 elections, he had a “change of heart regarding seeking re-election.”

He told The Herald later Wednesday he had “mixed emotions” about getting on the ballot in the first place.

“I did it, but I was never fully comfortable with my decision,” he said.

Wilt, 42, said he intends to serve out the remainder of his term, which officially ends on Nov. 30. Wilt’s district covers parts of Mercer, Crawford and Lawrence counties.

William Kirk, the Mercer County Republican Committee chairman, said party members in all three counties were saddened by Wilt’s announcement.

“He has been a friend and zealous advocate in Harrisburg,” Kirk said.

Although it’s not unheard of for an incumbent to pull his name off the ballot, the timing is somewhat unusual. Less than a month ago Wilt, running unopposed, won the Republican primary.

“Since there’s a high rate of members seeking re-election, they rarely choose not to run,” said Dr. Michael L. Coulter, an associate professor of political science at Grove City College.

Coulter said withdrawing from a race is rare at any time for an incumbent, but it’s “very rare for this to happen at this time.”

The deadline to get off the ballot is Aug. 14, but Wilt said the “right way to do it was immediately after the primary” in order to give other people sufficient time to make their own decisions. He plans to submit his paperwork in Harrisburg next week.

Wilt, who insisted he had no opportunities lined up in the private sector, would have been facing his first ballot opposition since first winning the seat in 1996.

Frank Weaver, a Lawrence County Democrat who secured the primary nod for the right to challenge Wilt in the fall, was “very surprised” by the announcement and wished Wilt “all the best in his future endeavors.”

Although he’s no longer facing a five-term incumbent, Weaver said Wilt’s withdrawal won’t change his campaign strategy one bit.

“It was never about attacking Rod Wilt the person,” Weaver said. “It was about what’s going in Harrisburg and how it needs to be corrected. They’re out of touch and need to change direction.”

When Wilt was elected, he became the first third-generation legislator in state history. Wilt’s grandfather Ray served from 1951-70 and his father Roy Sr. was in office from 1969-90. There were only six years — from 1991-96 — since 1951 when there was no Wilt in the General Assembly.

Wilt acknowledged the unique opportunity he had to follow his grandfather and father into public service and said it was a pleasure working on behalf of the people of all three counties.

“Over nearly 10 years in public office, I have made a number of lasting friendships with people in every corner of Pennsylvania that have enriched my life in a number of ways,” he added.

Wilt serves on the transportation, finance, house game and fisheries and urban affairs committees.

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