Pennsylvania state House speaker announces retirement: ‘It’s time to pass the torch’

Pennsylvania’s Republican Party will lose a major power broker with the retirement of Mike Turzai.

The Pittsburgh-area representative and state speaker of the House announced Thursday that he is leaving politics to work in the private sector, the Washington Examiner reported.

Turzai, who became known as a fiscal hawk and top adversary of Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, said that it was time to “pass the torch” and that he had no plans to run for governor.

“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 Examiner. “It’s time. It’s time to pass the torch on to another generation of leaders. And I’m actually quite comfortable with that.”

The end of an era

Turzai has represented Allegheny County’s 28th legislative district, a suburban area in western Pennsylvania, since he first won the seat in 2001, according to the Examiner. He went on to become one of the state’s most powerful Republicans and a forceful advocate for tax cuts and traditional values.

He supported school choice, worked to privatize state liquor stores, fought taxes on natural gas, and vehemently opposed abortion and the legalization of marijuana. His tenure as speaker coincided with that of Gov. Wolf, with whom he often battled over budgets, CBS Pittsburgh noted.

At a press conference, Turzai was visibly emotional as he reflected on his two decades in state politics. Turzai said that he will not run to replace Wolf, who is term-limited, in 2022, but will instead seek work in the private sector.

“One of the most difficult parts of public service is watching so many colleagues have difficult times in terms of keeping the family together because these jobs are difficult, they’re challenging. A lot of travel, a lot of time away from home,” Turzai said, according to CBS Pittsburgh. “It’s a hard reality; and yet, we run for office to make life better for families, and trade — like many of our colleagues in other professions — trade precious time for one more term. A last term that never really seems to come. Well, for me, here it is.”

Dems see an opportunity

With Turzai’s retirement, Democrats sense an opportunity to reclaim the state legislature and the speakership, which Republicans in the state have controlled since 2010 when Republicans swept state legislatures across the country. If Republicans hold onto their majority, then possible successors to Turzai as speaker include House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler and Appropriations Committee Chair Stan Saylor, Turzai said Thursday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Turzai’s seat was considered safe until a forceful Democratic challenge in 2018 from Emily Skopov, who lost her race by 10 points. To that end, Democrats in the state have said that Turzai’s retirement was motivated by a fear of losing his re-election.

“Mike Turzai called it quits today for one main reason — he knows his tenure as speaker is on borrowed time,” Leanne Krueger, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee, said, according to CBS Pittsburgh.

A lasting legacy

Speaking with the Examiner, Turzai credited his work on taxes for creating jobs in the state. He pointed to the Shell Chemical Petrochemical plant in Beaver County, which is currently under construction, as a job creator.

“In Beaver County, thanks to those tax credits that we got when I was majority leader, 6,500 skilled people are building a facility on the largest construction site in North America, and it’s going to result in, what, like 700 permanent jobs and many downstream and upstream jobs as well,” he said.

Skopov is running again for Turzai’s seat, and some possible Republican primary candidates include banker Rob Mercuri, the Post-Gazette reported. As for Turzai, he told CBS Pittsburgh that he hopes to keep jobs in Pennsylvania in some capacity within the private sector.

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