Speculation grows about Pennsylvania House speaker’s future

January 22, 2020 GMT

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, the most prominent fiscal and social conservative in state government, will hold a news conference Thursday amid speculation in the Capitol this week that he will leave the powerful office after five years.

Turzai, a Republican, had repeatedly declined to comment this week on questions about his future, and rank-and-file House Republicans say they have no information from Turzai about what he will announce.

The House Republican caucus issued a news release Wednesday afternoon announcing the news conference in Turzai’s suburban Pittsburgh district, just after he ended the day’s uneventful voting session.


Three people who say they have spoken with Turzai in recent days, however, say he is expected to announce that he is leaving office or not running again for his House seat, with a private-sector job offer waiting in the wings.

The three people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations with Turzai, 60, who has served in the House since 2001 and rose to become speaker in 2015 after four years as majority leader.

The company said to be making the offer, Bryn Mawr-based water utility Aqua America Inc., which is closing on its $4.3 billion purchase of Pittsburgh-based natural gas utility Peoples on Feb. 3, declined comment Wednesday through a spokesman.

The deadline for a decision for Turzai to run again is approaching.

Tuesday is the first day that candidates can circulate petitions to get on the April 28 primary ballot. Feb. 18 is the deadline to file the petitions.

Turzai has been a powerhouse fundraiser for the House Republican majority, and his departure could open a vacuum for conservative leadership in the Capitol.

As speaker for all five years during Gov. Tom Wolf’s time in office, Turzai has been the strongest counterweight to the Democrat, often driving a harder line against spending and tax increases in budget-making when other Republicans in leadership were ready to compromise.

He pushed abortion legislation to certain veto on Wolf’s desk, played a key role in increasing taxpayer support of private-school scholarships and was a critical ally for the natural gas industry against Wolf’s bid to impose a severance tax on the booming sector.

He also often insisted on muscling through major legislation with or without support from Democrats.

However, his power wasn’t absolute. In recent days, the House rejected his legislation to funnel state aid into private school grants in the troubled Harrisburg School District, which is under a state-appointed receiver.

He also worked to block medical marijuana legislation, but supporters — including some conservatives — overcame his opposition to send it to Wolf’s desk in 2016.

He led the fight for years to privatize the state’s control over wine and liquor sales, and ultimately accepted a compromise that entailed the limited sale of wine in grocery stores and other private licensees, but otherwise kept the state’s control intact.

Turzai has a history of seeking higher office and changing his mind.

He aborted a run for lieutenant governor in 2006 and flirted with another run for Congress in 2012, even telling confidantes that he would run before deciding against it. In 2017, he announced a run for governor, but dropped out when the Republican State Committee voted to endorse a Republican rival in the primary.

In recent weeks, he expressed an interest in running for governor again in 2022, when Wolf will be barred by term limits from seeking another four-year term.


Associated Press reporter Mark Scolforo contributed to this report.