PITTSBURGH–An ice storm that closed schools and caused a power outage in a television studio during a taping session were just two of the minor irritants for the media-savvy Tim Murphy, Ph.D., the latest psychologist to be elected to Congress.
Murphy, 50, a long-time child psychologist here, is relaxed as he finishes up his work as a state senator and prepares for the life of a U.S. congressman with an agenda that includes a strong patients bill of right and prescription drugs for seniors under Medicare.
Both are areas that have attracted national attention for Murphy who was elected vice-chair of the 33-member GOP freshman class. He captured a new district that stretches west and south around this aging industrial center with 60% of the vote in the November election.
Despite a Democratic advantage of 75,000 voters, Murphy was able to present his Republican views to the generally conservative district. His name as well as his decades-long appearance as “Dr. Tim” on local television and radio, served him well in the campaign.
A former congressman and the current mayor of Pittsburgh share Murphy’s surname.
He spent $800,000 on a campaign against a poorly financed opponent to help insure that his name was even more widely recognized by the time the voters trooped to the polls on Election Day.
“Early polling,” he explained, “showed me with 60% of the vote, but I knew that I had to spend some money to make sure that those numbers remained there until the end of the campaign.”
He was also helped by several political mistakes made by his opponent, former North Huntingdon school administrator and tax-collector Jack Machek.
Machek alienated the veteran community by wearing an Army uniform in his campaign literature despite the fact that he had never served in the Army, although he did attend West Point for two years.
In addition, he alienated University of Pittsburgh graduates by denigrating his degree from that school–an institution, incidentally where Murphy received his doctorate in clinical psychology.
It is in the area of veterans affairs that Murphy has expressed interest in serving in Congress. He said that Pittsburgh has the largest per capita concentration of veterans in the United States.
“There are 1.2 million veterans in Pennsylvania, but no one from this state serves on the Veterans Affairs Committee,” Murphy tells his television interviewer.
But, although he knows that congressmen with no seniority won’t get prime committee assignments, Murphy plans to take leadership in advocating for a strong patients bill of rights and establishing a drug benefit for seniors under Medicare.
Murphy gained a reputation as a consensus builder when he was able to bring disparate groups behind a state patients bill of rights during his first term in the Pennsylvania Legislature.
Sixteen months after first being elected to the State Senate in 1996, Murphy convinced his legislative colleagues that they had an opportunity to break new ground in helping to return healthcare decisions to providers and patients from control by health maintenance organizations and insurance companies.
Business, labor, healthcare providers and good government groups were just a few of the organizations that supported Murphy’s patients bill of rights legislation.
“It became a model,” he recalls. “I started receiving calls from out-of-state legislators wondering how they could do the same thing in their states.”