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State House Speaker Mike Turzai’s campaign for governor begins to take shape

November 17, 2017
Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai announces his campaign for governor at the Bradford Woods Firehall in Bradford Woods on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017.
Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai announces his campaign for governor at the Bradford Woods Firehall in Bradford Woods on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017.

The contours of Mike Turzai’s campaign for governor started to take shape Thursday evening at a kickoff event in a fire hall down the road from his Marshall home.

Turzai, 58, the Republican state House speaker, focused on legislative accomplishments of his 15-year career, saying his record bolsters his claims that he is a reformer.

“I am somebody who has held positions in state government, but we’ve done really significant changes,” he said.

Addressing about 400 people from a stage hung with his campaign banner and positioned between two TV screens, he told the crowd that he helped expand school choice, passed budgets without tax increases and adopted stricter standards for abortion clinics. He took credit for adopting the Castle Doctrine and ending late-night voting at the Capitol.

Neither he nor other speakers talked directly about his Republican primary opponents or about President Donald Trump, whose influence in the race political analysts say cannot be ignored.

He is running against candidates with less political experience who are casting themselves as outsiders capable of change — a pitch resembling that made by the president.

State Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Moon, made perhaps a veiled reference to the president and his free use of Twitter while making a case that Turzai will steadfastly pursue a traditional Republican agenda.

“We need to not be distracted by the tweets and all the other ancillary things going,” Mustio said.

He praised Turzai’s knowledge of statewide issues, his dedication to Western Pennsylvania and to opposing tax increases.

“It’s facts that win the debate; good politics win,” he said.

Turzai is running against Scott Wagner, a first-term state senator who has been described by supporters and detractors alike as “Donald Trump-lite”; retired health care consultant Paul Mango; and Laura Ellsworth, a Pittsburgh-based attorney with the law firm Jones Day.

Kim Ward, a state senator from Hempfield, said Turzai has “changed the landscape in Harrisburg.”

“We don’t have any bad candidates on the Republican ticket for governor, but we do have a best Republican candidate,” Ward said of Turzai.

Turzai said he would focus on bringing jobs to Western Pennsylvania. He said Pittsburgh the city has come a long way from unemployment rates reaching above 20 percent after the collapse of the steel industry, and took some of the credit for the progress.

“The city of Pittsburgh was going to be in decay. The bill that put the oversight on the city of Pittsburgh and in many ways turned it around was my legislation,” he said, referring to the city’s receivership status.

Turzai said he will focus on developing natural gas jobs and the manufacturing of plastics that he said could come from processing natural gas byproducts.

Country music from the band The Outlaws concluded his speech.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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