Pa. House Speaker Turzai confirms run for governor
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.”
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.