In an interview with a Washington-based news outlet, Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai said he will announce later today that he is not seeking reelection to the state House this year.
Turzai, ago 60, has been speaker since 2015, presiding over a House majority caucus that has prided itself on stopping every general tax increase proposed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, even as that has opened the door to an increased reliance on legalized gambling, higher cigarette taxes and other targeted fees.
“I’ve been honored to serve, and it’s been an amazing journey, but it’s good to move on and let another generation of leaders develop,” Turzai told the Washington Examiner in an interview published Thursday morning. He described it as a tough decision, but said he decided: “It’s time. It’s time to pass the torch on to another generation of leaders. And I’m actually quite comfortable with that.”
Turzai, who also discussed his decision with a Pittsburgh radio station at 10 a.m., will elaborate on his announcement at a general news conference scheduled for 11 a.m. at his suburban Pittsburgh legislative office.
Thursday’s news wraps a week of rumors and whispers at the state Capitol that didn’t need much of a spark to ignite because of where we are in Pennsylvania’s political calendar.
Starting next week, all candidates for the state legislature and Congress can start gathering voter signatures to earn a place on their party primary ballots, making this the period where final decisions have to be made about whether one is in the race, or not. Some 14 state House members have already said they are retiring after this year.
But then there’s also Turzai’s particular position in the state’s Republican Party firmament, where he is seen as a potential candidate for governor in 2022, or possibly even the U.S. Senate should incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey opt not to seek re-election.
Turzai mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor in the 2018 campaign cycle that was hampered, some feel, by the tension between serving as Speaker of the House – with all of the Harrisburg policy and political party demands that brings – and at the same time trying to raise money for his own political goals.
“To do what he did, which was being a full-time Dad, full-time Speaker and full-time candidate, all simultaneously, is very difficult,” said Jeff Coleman, a former state lawmaker who now runs a political consulting firm called Churchill Strategies. Coleman’s firm has worked with Turzai campaigns in the past.
Turzai found himself lagging way behind other Republican contenders like former state Sen. Scott Wagner, the eventual nominee, and Pittsburgh businessman Paul Mango, and wound up abandoning his 2018 effort after the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee threw its endorsement to Wagner.
Whatever Turzai decides to do next in politics, Thursday’s announcement will bring to a close a remarkable Harrisburg career marked by a dogged persistence on conservative policy goals that eventually saw success in areas like holding the line on state taxes, reducing the growth of the state’s overall debt load, and the creation of a mechanism for businesses to provide scholarships to private and parochial schools.
He also, with the help of pro-gas industry allies in the House, almost singlehandedly thwarted an agreement by Democrat Wolf and the majority Senate Republican caucus to impose a severance tax on natural gas pulled from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale reserves.
But Turzai’s signature policy win, in the eyes of most Pennsylvanians, will always be the presence of beer and wine sections in their local supermarket.
The mercurial attorney from the suburbs of Pittsburgh arrived in the state House in 2001, after winning a special election. He moved into House Republican caucus leadership and was elected majority leader when the GOP retook the majority in the House in the 2010 campaign cycle, and became Speaker after the retirement of Sam Smith in 2014.
This year, however, Turzai has failed on attempts to push a number of his top personal legislative priorities through, including a bill that would have authorized a single-district, school choice program aimed at providing new options for families in the troubled Harrisburg School District; and a restructuring of the governance of the Pittsburgh Airport.
He also saw Wolf successfully veto his bid earlier this year to dramatically expand his tax credits-for-scholarships program.
It is not immediately clear what Turzai’s next day job will be after leaving the House.
As this week unfolded, reports emerged that Turzai could eventually go to work as an executive for Essential Utilities, the rebranded public utility firm resulting from Aqua America Inc.’s just-approved $4.3 billion acquisition of Peoples Natural Gas, the largest natural gas supplier in western Pennsylvania. That consolidation was approved by the state’s Public Utility Commission Jan.
Turzai is close friends with Chris Franklin, Aqua America’s chief executive officer.
A spokeswoman for Aqua America said its corporate policy is not to comment on “speculative employment matters.”
Click here for the PennLive article: https://www.pennlive.com/news/2020/01/pa-speaker-mike-turzai-tells-news-outlet-he-is-leaving-state-house.html