Esther Weyand-Landis was impressed with the responses by seven candidates vying to replace retiring state Rep. Bob Bastian, R-Somerset.

Now, Weyand-Landis is hoping the rhetoric translates into action.

“They do a good talk,” the 52-year-old Somerset woman said.

“But are they going to walk the walk when they get there?”

All seven candidates in the heavily contested 69th district race were grilled on a range of questions submitted from a crowd of about 100 at a public forum Wednesday night at Somerset Area High School sponsored by The Tribune-Democrat and WJAC-TV.

Among the topics: How the state will deal with an impending recession, tax reform, medical malpractice, privatizing state liquor stores and navigating through the Capitol as a freshman legislator.

The candidates are Republicans Joe Betta, a retired Marine from Somerset; Mike Brendle, a Lincoln Township businessman; Ed Sroka, a Bakersville construction-company owner; John Ferko, a respiratory therapist from Shanksville who narrowly lost in the race for Somerset County commissioner last year; and Somerset lawyer Carl Metzgar.

Democrats are Ken Warnick of Meyersdale, director of student services at Allegany College of Maryland’s campuses in Somerset and Bedford; and Stephen Smerbeck of Somerset, an English teacher at Meyersdale Area High School.

Bastian is retiring after 12 years in office.

“It’s very important that whoever takes my place has a good sense of what’s going on,” said Bastian, the county’s Republican Party chairman. “These guys are getting prepared.”

He said securing the nomination comes down to a simple philosophy: “Whoever works the hardest, gets it,” Bastian said.

Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk, the Democratic chairman, said it was insightful seeing all the candidates on the same stage.

“How the candidates react to each other – their gestures, their expressions – means a lot,” Vatavuk said, “and, how they handle themselves under pressure.”

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