Pa. House Speaker Turzai con­firms run for gov­er­nor

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Local news - By Liz Navratil

Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette

HAR­RIS­BURG — House Speaker Mike Turzai, known for his con­ser­va­tive views and zest for bat­tle with the Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tion, has joined the race for gov­er­nor.

The Repub­li­can from Al­legheny County an­nounced his plans to seek the GOP nom­i­na­tion Tues­day evening in a video posted to his cam­paign’s so­cial-me­dia ac­counts.

Mr. Turzai cham­pi­oned his op­po­si­tion to var­i­ous taxes — a stick­ing point in the state’s four-month bud­get im­passe, and on which his party’s House cau­cus was of­ten a hold­out on pro­posed com­pro­mises that would have in­creased broad-based taxes.

He re­ferred to the Repub­li­can­con­trolled House as “the last line of de­fense against ev­ery imag­in­able scheme to take away your hard-earned dol­lars and free­dom.”

And the state Demo­cratic Party was quick to crit­i­cize, ac­cus­ing Mr. Turzai of par­a­lyz­ing state gov­ern­ment and caus­ing a credit down­grade “so he could ad­vance his own po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions and pro­tect his donors in the oil and gas in­dus­try.”

To many in the Capi­tol, a fiery show­down be­tween the speaker and Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf had seemed in­evitable dur­ing the bud­get im­passe.

But if Mr. Turzai wants to face Mr. Wolf in the run for gov­er­nor,

he must first make it out of a crowded field of can­di­dates run­ning for the GOP ticket.

Also seek­ing the nom­i­na­tion are state Sen. Scott Wag­ner, a York County Repub­li­can who has been com­pared to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, health care con­sul­tant Paul Mango and at­tor­ney Laura Ellsworth. Mr. Mango and Ms. Ellsworth are from Al­legheny County, he from Pine and she from Moon, like Mr. Turzai, who lives in Mar­shall.

Some an­a­lysts won­der whether the Al­legheny County can­di­dates would split the Western Penn­syl­va­nia vote, eas­ing Mr. Wag­ner’s path to the nom­i­na­tion.

Mr. Turzai, a 58-year-old lawyer, joined the House in 2001, rose to ma­jor­ity leader in 2011 — aided by an in­flux of more con­ser­va­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tives —and be­came speaker in 2015.

As a leader, he has been praised for his work ethic, com­mand of de­tails and his abil­ity to man­age the cau­cus’ right wing.

Oth­ers have de­scribed him as mer­cu­rial and some­times er­ratic be­hind the scenes. They pointed to a time when he was spot­ted bang­ing on the door of the gov­er­nor’s of­fice dur­ing bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions and to a sum­mer week­end when he floated an al­ter­na­tive rev­enue plan that quickly foundered, a move that some felt de­layed pro­gres­son the bud­get.

Leg­is­la­tors passed a nearly $32 bil­lion spend­ing plan in late June and strug­gled for months to find a way to pay for it. Dur­ing that time, the state’s credit rat­ing was down­graded.

Mr. Turzai, in late July, pro­posed a pay­ment method that in­cluded no new taxes, re­lied heav­ily on bor­row­ing and pulled money from funds that sub­si­dize a range of causes from mass tran­sit to 911 call cen­ters. The plan never left the cau­cus room.

Less than a week later, his col­leagues in the Repub­li­can­con­trolled Senate passed a rev­enue plan that taxed nat­u­ral gas drilling and raised or im­posed new taxes on con­sumers’ tele­phone, elec­tric and gas bills. House Democrats were will­ing to sign on to the plan, per­haps with some tweaks, and Mr. Wolf ex­pressed sup­port for it. Mr. Turzai, how­ever, op­posed the taxes, and the pro­posal died in the House.

Cam­paign records show Mr. Turzai has re­ceived nearly a quar­ter-mil­lion dol­lars since 2010 from drilling com­pa­nies, their po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees or their trade groups. A Turzai spokesman pre­vi­ously said it was “in­sult­ing” to as­sume the do­na­tions played any role in House Repub­li­can lead­ers’ op­po­si­tion to the tax, say­ing their mo­ti­va­tion was to pro­tect jobs.

Leg­is­la­tors con­tin­ued to ne­go­ti­ate on the the bud­get, and in the end de­cided to bal­ance it largely through bor­row­ing and a gam­bling ex­pan­sion.

On Tues­day, some of the lines that were used as talk­ing points dur­ing bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions were echoed in Mr. Turzai’s video an­nounc­ing his cam­paign: “House Repub­li­cans fought back a wave of un­seen taxes that would have hit hard­work­ing fam­i­lies.”

Keith Srako­cic/As­so­ci­ated Press

Penn­syl­va­nia House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Mar­shall, said Tues­day that he will seek his party’s nom­i­na­tion next year to chal­lenge Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf. Mr. Turzai, a leader of anti-tax and so­cial con­ser­va­tives who has helped drive aus­ter­ity in state bud­get­ing, will com­pete with three other Repub­li­cans for the nom­i­na­tion.

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