Change is officially coming to Pennsylvania’s state house. Mike Turzai, the current Speaker of the House, officially announced his retirement this Thursday, meaning that there will be someone new in the speaker’s chair come 2021. There are a couple different angles that this can be looked at from.
First, some strategists are taking this to mean that the GOPs house majority in Pennsylvania is very much in danger. While Turzai’s seat was very safe in 2001 when he was first elected, nowadays his suburban seat in Alleghany County is slowly becoming one of the most competitive house seats in the state. To some, this means that Turzai would rather retire and go out now instead of facing a potentially tough race and the possibility of a loss. To do it before 2020, where there are multiple Democratic targets in suburban seats in Pennsylvania, really raises alarm bells for some GOP strategists. The fact that it is happening for this next cycle, during a presidential election where Donald Trump is still favored in this district, is also interesting; even with a great atmosphere for Democrats in 2018, Turzai still won his race by 9 points. In a presidential year, I’d still consider this seat as a lean GOP area, nor do I particularly think that this means the Pennsylvania house is in danger of flipping in 2020. While the margin for error is small, I don’t see it likely that the GOP loses its majority in the house.
There is also the item of Turzai’s future. While his time in the house might be done, there is still room for him to potentially run again. At the age of 60, Turzai would still have life as a politician, and a decent record to run on in a GOP primary. While he seems interested in the private sector for now(he is rumored to be taking a job in the natural gas industry), it would be very unlikely that the PA GOP would close the door on Turzai if he would want to run again. There could be options very much in the near future, as in 2022 either the nomination for Senator or Governor could be wide open on the GOP side. That all depends on the next move of current Senator Pat Toomey, as it has been rumored that he could run again, run for Governor, or just retire from politics altogether. Whichever way he goes, Turzai would certainly be a favorite in either race, and his resume as Speaker is tantalizing to the Republican base as is his ability to connect with the white working class voters that propelled President Trump to victory in 2016. Turzai has not necessarily shied away from statewide runs either, as he was recently in the running for Governor in 2018 for a short while before deciding to stay in the House for good. Turzai could have the funds and the base to make a good run at either position, and being away from the speakership could allow him to stay out of the spotlight for a bit to get prepared for a major run.
With Turzai commiting to not running again, that means there will be someone new in the speaker’s chair come the next term. For the GOP the favorite would be the current majority leader Brian Cutler, who represents most of southern Lancaster County. This would be a big step forward for the county as its political importance grows in the state. Cutler’s seat is exactly what the GOP would want in a speaker’s seat, where it will be safe for years to come. While Lancaster itself is changing, the part covered by Cutler is still reliably GOP and will be for the next couple decades. If the Democrats were able to pull the upset and take the House majority, the likely speaker would be Frank Dermody the current minority leader. Unlike Cutler though, Dermody’s seat is closer to what Turzais is currently except his is trending towards the GOP. Based outside the Scranton area, this seat is one that if Dermody were to retire it would go towards a lean Dem/tilt Dem seat. If democrats wanted to try and find someone in a safer seat who could still lead the caucus well, Jordan Harris who is the current House whip is based in Philadelphia and could be an exciting name to lead what would be a new age of Democrats. No matter who the mallet goes to though, replacing Turzai will be no small task. His decision to leave sends ripples all throughout Pennsylvania’s short term political future, and it will be interesting to watch not only what Turzai does next, but who comes in to replace him.