WASHINGTON -- Rep. Joe Pitts of Chester County, the senior Pennsylvania Republican in Congress, will not seek re-election next year, he announced Friday.

Pitts, now in his 10th term representing a district that includes parts of Chester, Berks and Lancaster counties, said little about his reasons for leaving. He is the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees health policy, but he was slated to lose his gavel in the next Congress due to Republicans' self-imposed term limits on committee leadership.

"With great appreciation for the support of all those who have contacted me to urge me to run for re-election, I have decided, after prayerful consideration, not to seek re-election to the U.S. Congress in 2016," Pitts said in his release. He pledged to continue working on issues related to human rights and religious freedom.

"As a person of faith, and a follower of Jesus, I believe that we are called to pursue justice and reconciliation, and to be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves," his release said.

Most of the district's residents live in Lancaster, so that county's Republican committee is likely to have the most sway in lining up a successor. Lancaster County Commissioner Scott Martin is one name already popping up among GOP leaders. State Sen. Lloyd Smucker and Chet Beiler, who ran for auditor general in 2008, are other names in the mix, according to Christopher Nicholas, a Harrisburg-based Republican consultant.

Smucker, in a news release, promised "an announcement soon regarding my own political future and, in particular, my interest in serving the people of the 16th Congressional district in Congress." However, he added, "today is about Congressman Joe Pitts and we all should be honoring and praising him for the countless years of dedicated, tireless public service."

The district leans Republican – Mitt Romney won it by 6 points in the 2012 presidential race.

Pitts, 76, joined Congress in 1997. With his departure in early 2017, and Jim Gerlach's retirement in January, Chester County will lose a combined 32 years of Congressional experience.

"For more than 42 years Joe Pitts has served Chester County as a state representative and a congressman, continually looking out for the interests of his constituents and serving with principle," said Chester County Republican chairman Val DiGiorgio. "He has been a great asset and his leadership will be missed."

DiGiorgio said the Chester GOP would look "very strongly" at any candidate recommended by the Lancaster Republican leadership.

Rep. Bill Shuster, from Blair County, is now the senior Pennsylvania Republican in the House.

Democratic Reps. Chaka Fattah, of Philadelphia, and Mike Doyle, of the Pittsburgh area, are the longest sitting members of Congress from the state. Both joined the House in 1995.

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