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Was Murtha good for Johnstown?

I'm sad to see that John Murtha, the Pennsylvania congressman and defense spending cardinal, has died after a long and productive life in government.

Whatever your views on Murtha -- and as  someone who grew up in southwest Pennsylvania, I certainly have my own opinions -- this is very bad news for Johnstown, the main town in the district he represented for nearly 36 years. Because if there's one thing Murtha did, it was bring home the bacon. Millions of dollars of it.

There was the John P. Murtha Neuroscience and Pain Institute, the John P. Murtha Regional Cancer Center, the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center, the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, and of course the John P. Murtha Institute for Homeland Security, to name but a few of the places, not to mention a number of defense contractors, kept afloat thanks to the congressman's mastery of the earmark system.The loss of a patron in Washington will be devastating.

Maybe, though, Johnstown will ultimately be better off without Murtha's largesse. The town was crushed by the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s, and never really recovered. Murtha's projects, along with some telemarketing and retail business, were about the only source of employment the town of 24,000 had to offer. Yet household income is about half the national average, and the area school system is abysmal. Now, Johnstown will have to attract industry on the region's own merits, rather than relying on its powerful friend on Capitol Hill. It's going to be painful for a while, but I hope this hard-luck town will emerge stronger for it.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

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