Paterno’s Son Ponders House Bid

Kin of Fabled Coach, a Republican Lawyer, Eyes Holden’s 17th District

Posted September 30, 2003 at 6:11pm

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno might be getting off to a disappointing start on the gridiron this season, but the Nittany Lions’ poor record doesn’t appear to be discouraging Paterno’s son from eyeing a run for Congress next year.

Scott Paterno, the twenty-something son of the legendary “Joe Pa,” is seriously considering running in Pennsylvania’s 17th district next year, and he is scheduled to visit Washington, D.C., this week to talk with Republican Party officials about the race, according to sources in D.C. and Pennsylvania.

Paterno’s name had been mentioned as a possible candidate for statewide office or in the 17th district months ago, but Politics PA.com, a Web site devoted to covering Keystone State politics, reported in early September that he had ruled out running.

Now, Paterno is taking another look at the GOP-leaning district currently represented by Rep. Tim Holden (D), and he has already had conversations with National Republican Congressional Committee officials about the race.

“I believe he has said previously that he’s not interested in running, but he’s reconsidering his decision,” said a GOP strategist.

Paterno has also sought counsel on the race from Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who said his advice to Paterno was that he would have to fight very hard for the seat. Santorum also told Paterno he shouldn’t get into the race if he expected to coast into office based on his family name.

“I said, ‘Look, this is something you really, really have to want to do,’” Santorum said Tuesday.

Santorum was 32 when he first ran for office — winning a House seat in 1990 — and he noted that Paterno has a very similar background to his, refuting any suggestion that the famed football coach’s son doesn’t have the requisite experience to succeed in politics.

“He’s a solid guy. He’s a good, solid, conservative guy,” Santorum said.

Like Santorum, Scott Paterno graduated from Penn State and earned a law degree from the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pa.

Despite his affinity for the Paterno family — a fellow Italian-American Catholic, Santorum is a proud Nittany Lion fan and rents a couple of homes he owns to Penn State students — Santorum maintained he is neutral in the GOP primary to challenge Holden.

“I have no intention of getting actively involved at this point,” he said.

Three other Republicans are already vying to face Holden in November 2004. Holden was the only Democrat who was victorious in the four Member-versus-Member general election races created by redistricting in the past cycle. He defeated 10-term Rep. George Gekas (R) 51 percent to 49 percent, making him a top target for Republicans this cycle.

However, a couple of well-known state lawmakers passed on the Holden race early, leaving national Republicans with what appears to be a second-tier primary field.

The 17th district stretches from the capital city of Harrisburg east to Holden’s home base in Schuylkill County. Paterno lives just outside of the district lines, in the neighboring 9th district represented by Rep. Bill Shuster (R).

If Paterno enters the race, it would set up a primary showdown with another candidate with ties to Penn State football and a recognizable last name.

Ron Hostetler, a school teacher and the brother of former NFL quarterback Jeff Hostetler, is also seeking the GOP nod. Ron Hostetler was a star linebacker for the university football team in the 1970s, during which time he garnered All-East and pre- season All-American honors. Coach Paterno, who recruited Hostetler and gave him a full football scholarship, had been making fundraising calls on his behalf earlier this year. His team is currently 2-and-3 this season.

Other Republicans in the race are accounting consultant Frank Ryan and Harrisburg Realtor Sue Helm. Dauphin County Sheriff Jack Lotwick is also still mentioned as a potential GOP candidate.

Ryan, a retired Marine, had been considered the frontrunner in the race until a restraining order sought by Ryan’s former wife and records of unpaid child support from a messy 1993 divorce came to light in August. Ryan disputed the allegations and maintained he had done nothing wrong, but even some Republicans believe the revelations tarnished his campaign beyond electability.

Scott Paterno did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday afternoon. He is currently working on the legal staff of state Senate Majority Leader David Brightbill (R), and he previously was as an associate with Morgan Lewis Counselors at Law in Harrisburg.

He is a member of the Penn State Libraries Development Advisory Board and has also written regular commentary for The Playbook, a magazine devoted to Penn State football. In October 2002, he participated in a panel discussion with other children of famous Italian Americans, held during the National Italian American Foundation’s 27th Anniversary Awards Gala weekend.

Paterno graduated in 1997 from Penn State, where he majored in political science, was a member of the Penn State chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a columnist for the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Collegian. He received his law degree in 2000.

In a three-part series published in the Collegian in October 1996, Paterno espoused what could best be described as conspiratorial views about then-President Bill Clinton’s ties to the deaths of Ron Brown, Vincent Foster and other associates.

“In my opinion, the President of the United States is a felon,” Paterno wrote. “In my opinion, President Clinton, at the very least, conspired to commit murder at least 56 times.”

In another of his columns, which are archived on The Daily Collegian’s Web site, he opined that recreational drug use should be legalized.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.