APNewsBreak: House Speaker Turzai to run for Pa. gov­er­nor

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - By Mark Scol­foro and Marc Levy

WEXFORD, PA. » Penn­syl­va­nia’s Repub­li­can House Speaker Mike Turzai, a leader of anti-tax and so­cial con­ser­va­tives who has helped drive aus­ter­ity in state bud­get­ing, will run for gov­er­nor.

Turzai, 58, told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Tues­day that he will seek the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion in May’s pri­mary elec­tion to chal­lenge Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who is run­ning for a sec­ond four-year term.

In an in­ter­view in a Wexford diner, Turzai called him­self a “re­former with re­sults.” But, he said, “to re­ally make a dif­fer­ence you have to be gov­er­nor, and you need a strong leader in that po­si­tion.” Turzai, who lives in sub­ur­ban Pitts­burgh, is en­ter­ing what is now a four-per­son Repub­li­can pri­mary field. Turzai floated his po­ten­tial can­di­dacy last spring, but stayed quiet about his plans while em­broiled in this year’s months-long bud­get stale­mate.

Turzai is the most prom­i­nent bud­get hawk in Repub­li­can lead­er­ship, and has been a con­stant ad­ver­sary of Wolf’s, par­tic­u­larly in the two drawn-out bud­get fights since Wolf be­came gov­er­nor in 2015. He even has been a bane to some Repub­li­cans, driv­ing a harder bar­gain when mod­er­ates or other con­ser­va­tives were ready to com­pro­mise on a big­ger tax in­crease to prop up the state’s deficit-rid­dled fi­nances.

Turzai will not run for his House seat if he wins the pri­mary, and in­tends to re­main speaker dur­ing the cam­paign, he said.

Also run­ning are York County state Sen. Scott Wag­ner and two first-time can­di­dates from the Pitts­burgh area: for­mer health care sys­tems con­sul­tant Paul Mango and lawyer Laura Ellsworth.

Rod Wilt, a Repub­li­can for­mer state law­maker who is a Turzai cam­paign vol­un­teer, said Turzai is “the only one that’s got­ten any­thing done.”

“I walk into a gro­cery store and I see beer and wine there and I think, ‘Mike did that,’” Wilt said.

Turzai, a lawyer and for­mer county pros­e­cu­tor, has the most po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence of the can­di­dates, hav­ing been in of­fice since 2001. He is an ex­pe­ri­enced fundraiser, spear­head­ing the ef­fort for the House GOP, the cham­ber’s ma­jor­ity party since early 2011. That was the year Turzai be­came ma­jor­ity leader, be­fore tak­ing the speaker’s of­fice in 2015.

Turzai’s as­cent to speaker co­in­cided with Wolf’s gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion vic­tory, and the pair have locked horns time and again.

In par­tic­u­lar, Turzai plans to run on his record of help­ing block nearly all of the tax in­creases Wolf has sought, in­clud­ing on Mar­cel­lus Shale nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion and on in­come, and holds him­self out as a probusi­ness cham­pion.

This year, he helped drive a bud­get agree­ment that in­cluded launch­ing a mas­sive gam­bling ex­pan­sion and bor­row­ing $1.5 bil­lion to back­fill a deficit, a move that will cost tax­pay­ers more than $2 bil­lion over 20 years. Mean­while, bud­gets he has helped bro­ker have drawn six credit down­grades go­ing back to 2012, leav­ing Penn­syl­va­nia’s credit rat­ing in the base­ment.

The Demo­cratic Party swiftly at­tacked Turzai, say­ing he has spent nearly two decades de­fend­ing the sta­tus quo and spe­cial in­ter­ests and that Turzai as gov­er­nor “is like hir­ing an ar­son­ist as fire mar­shal.”

In lead­er­ship, Turzai has pro­pelled sev­eral pet is­sues: pri­va­tiz­ing the state­con­trolled wine and liquor store sys­tem and di­rect­ing more tax­payer dol­lars to pri­vate school schol­ar­ships and non-profit ed­u­ca­tion groups. Turzai also has sought to slash the state’s bor­row­ing limit for devel­op­ment projects.

He said that he could fur­ther those goals as gov­er­nor.

“We haven’t been able to fully ac­com­plish our goals,” Turzai said. “And only a gov­er­nor can fully in­sti­tute re­forms.”

Turzai has been a voice for his cau­cus’ most con­ser­va­tive mem­bers. Twice un­der Wolf he has pulled the House GOP out of bi­par­ti­san bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions in a bid to block a tax in­crease. His tough tac­tics have ar­guably made the House GOP’s con­ser­va­tives the Capitol’s most in­flu­en­tial bloc since Wolf be­came gov­er­nor.

He has of­ten in­sisted on muscling through ma­jor leg­is­la­tion with or with­out sup­port from Democrats. De­spite that, he said, “while we may dis­agree, I can still work with peo­ple to get im­por­tant pieces of leg­is­la­tion done.”

As ma­jor­ity leader for all four years un­der thenRepub­li­can Gov. Tom Cor­bett, Turzai backed deep, bud­get-bal­anc­ing cuts in ed­u­ca­tion aid, re­quire­ments that abor­tion clin­ics meet stricter out­pa­tient surgery cen­ter stan­dards and a tougher voter iden­ti­fi­ca­tion law.

He made head­lines in 2012 for say­ing the voter ID law would al­low Repub­li­can Mitt Rom­ney to win Penn­syl­va­nia in that year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Rom­ney lost Penn­syl­va­nia and the elec­tion to Demo­crat Barack Obama and the law ul­ti­mately was blocked in the courts.

In 2013, he voted for a $2.3 bil­lion trans­porta­tion fund­ing bill, la­beled by con­ser­va­tive op­po­nents as the state’s big­gest tax in­crease in state his­tory, although it was sup­ported by busi­ness groups. He also voted last year to raise taxes on cig­a­rettes.

Turzai’s power in the Capitol is not ab­so­lute.

He worked to block med­i­cal mar­i­juana leg­is­la­tion, but sup­port­ers — in­clud­ing some con­ser­va­tives — over­came his op­po­si­tion to send it to Wolf’s desk last year.

Turzai said he would mon­i­tor the law to see if it was in­creas­ing recre­ational use, and if it does, would push for ad­di­tional reg­u­la­tions.

He has had limited suc­cess in pri­va­tiz­ing the sale of wine and liquor, with the Se­nate bro­ker­ing bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion last year that al­lowed wine in gro­cery stores and other pri­vate li­censees, but other­wise kept the state’s con­trol in­tact.


Repub­li­can Penn­syl­va­nia State Rep. Mike Turzai speaks dur­ing an in­ter­view where he con­firmed his can­di­dacy for gov­er­nor of Penn­syl­va­nia, Tues­day, in Wexford, Pa. Turzai will seek the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion in May’s pri­mary elec­tion to chal­lenge Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who is run­ning for a sec­ond four-year term.

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