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Lawmaker soldiers called up

PITTSBURGH — With days remaining before a special election for a state Senate seat, candidate John Pippy was getting an anthrax shot with the rest of his Army unit instead of knocking on doors for votes.

Pippy, a Republican state representative from just outside Pittsburgh, is one of a handful of lawmakers around the country being called to serve in the military.

Florida state Rep. Carey Baker received activation orders for the National Guard in late December. Rep. Doran Metzger told colleagues in January he would miss nearly the entire legislative session while serving with a Vermont National Guard air ambulance company. Ohio state Rep. John Boccieri missed several weeks of the legislative session this year while flying a C-130 cargo plane near the Iraqi border.

"I took a military oath long before I was elected," Boccieri said. "That oath, for all of us I think, remains strong."

At least a dozen other states have legislators that are in the Reserve and could be called up. Most states have laws that prohibit active-duty military personnel from participating in legislative activities, said Heather Morton of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The rationale is that the military is part of the executive branch, and legislative service would be a conflict of interest.

But reservists are another matter.

Most states have laws that prohibit active-duty military personnel from participating in legislative activities, said Heather Morton of the National Conference of State Legislatures, but reservists are another matter.

While statehouses across the country have said occasional deployments are not a problem, some legislatures are pushing for laws that would allow temporary appointees to vote in place of legislators called to duty.

A resolution introduced Wednesday in Ohio by Boccieri, a captain in the Air Force Reserve, would allow politicians in uniform to participate in the legislative process from far-flung regions of the world.

"With the communications capabilities we have today — e-mail, fax or teleconferencing — there is no reason why members of legislature cannot serve their country and their state," said Boccieri, a Democrat.

Of the handful of lawmakers who have been deployed, none has faced hurdles as great as Pippy, a captain and commander of the 332nd Engineer Company, now stationed in Aberdeen, Md.

He was in the midst of a special election for a Senate seat — to be held Tuesday — when he was activated last month.

It looked like Pippy's name would be removed from the ballot this week when the Army said his candidacy was against regulations, but federal rules were waived in a letter signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

The Defense Department on Thursday clarified the Army's ruling that no member called to the reserves for extended active duty could serve in office, saying that while they can't perform their legislative functions and can't campaign, they don't need to resign their seats.

A federal lawsuit by three voters challenging Pippy's candidacy was thrown out Thursday, a decision that was supported by the state attorney general's office, which argued Pennsylvania elections are the state's business.

Paul Gitnik, the Democratic challenger, has largely avoided making Pippy's military service an issue, but argued this week that the Senate district would not be properly represented while Pippy is on active duty.

Meanwhile, Pippy's wife, Katherine Pippy, has brushed up on campaign issues and has spoken for her husband during public forums.

"He has always been the one going to stuffed pork chop dinners and bingo halls but I've had to do that lately," she said. "I have no aspirations to carry on that type of thing when he comes back."