HARRISBURG - House Speaker Mike Turzai is making his first big pitch for support from the Republican faithful to challenge Democratic Gov. Wolf in 2018, and said he hopes to make a formal announcement of his candidacy in the coming months.
In a letter obtained by the Associated Press, the Allegheny County representative informed state Republican Party committee members that he was seriously considering a run, and detailed his accomplishments in the House and as a fund-raiser helping other Republican candidates around Pennsylvania. He also appeared to take aim at competitors for the GOP nomination without identifying them.
"Unlike others, I have been carrying the Republican agenda for more than a decade," Turzai wrote. "I don't need focus groups to tell me where my principles are. And I'm not trying to buy this election with my own money. I have a history of winning, not just elections, but important policy battles."
He wrote in the four-page letter - received in the mail Friday by committee members - that he hopes to make a formal announcement in the summer or early fall. Turzai is perhaps best-known in Harrisburg for his conservative fiscal stances, advocacy for alternatives to public schools, and push to privatize the state wine and liquor system.
In recent weeks, Turzai has clashed with School Reform Commission members and Philadelphia legislators, warning that the SRC was trying to "overstep" charter law in seeking to change provisions for local charter schools. District officials and Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Philadelphia Democrat, lashed back, accusing the House speaker of threatening district funding and unfairly injecting himself into its decision-making process.
Wolf is running for a second four-year term in next year's election and so far has no announced opponent for the Democratic Party nomination.
Two GOP candidates are already in the mix for the Republican Party nomination.
They are State Sen. Scott Wagner of York County and political newcomer Paul Mango, a longtime former health care systems consultant from the Pittsburgh area, who is expected to formally announce his candidacy Wednesday.
Turzai, who also is from near Pittsburgh, did not say in the letter whether he would resign as speaker before he runs or whether he would remain speaker during a campaign for governor. He would be free to raise campaign donations into his existing campaign account in the coming months and then transfer it later into a gubernatorial campaign account.
Turzai, 57, a lawyer and former prosecutor in Allegheny County, was first elected to the House in 2001 after running unsuccessfully for Congress in 1998. He became the GOP floor leader in 2011 and speaker in 2015. He also has a history of changing his mind: He aborted a run for lieutenant governor in 2006 and flirted with another run for Congress in 2012.
Wagner, 61, who built two municipal waste-hauling companies and currently owns the $65 million Penn Waste operation, reported lending his campaign $4 million. The American Conservative Union rated Wagner among the Senate's five most conservative senators. In his push for conservative fiscal policy, he has often singled out public-sector labor unions or fellow Republicans he did not see as conservative enough.
Mango, 58, has never held or run for public office or conducted a media interview about his political views. Little is also known about Mango's personal wealth.