HARRISBURG - Innocent utterance or a major political Freudian slip?
Either way, a top House Republican has come under fire for comments he made over the weekend regarding Pennsylvania's new voter ID law - comments that critics say prove their contention that the law was motivated by the GOP's desire to skew presidential elections in its favor.
At a state Republican Party meeting in Harrisburg Saturday, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Allegheny County listed legislative victories since Republicans regained control of both chambers and the governor's office. Among them, he said: requiring voters, starting in November, to show an acceptable form of identification at the polls.
Turzai then framed the effort in the context of November's presidential election.
"Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania - done," Turzai told the crowd, which promptly broke into applause.
His comments swiftly began made it onto YouTube, and since then have called into question his - and his party's - motives in supporting the measure.
"Mr. Turzai's statement is the smoking gun," Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) said at a news conference Tuesday with Democratic colleagues from the House and Senate.
"This was not about stopping any voter fraud. This was part of a national effort by the Republican Party to pass laws disenfranchising large numbers of voters who tend to vote Democratic," Leach said.
Added Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.): "We told you so."
Turzai spokesman Steve Miskin on Tuesday reiterated what Republicans who supported the law have maintained from the start: that voter ID laws are about decreasing voter fraud by ensuring that those showing up at the polls are legally registered to vote.
Miskin said Turzai could have phrased his point differently but noted that the House Republican leader was speaking at a "partisan, political event."
"He was simply referencing, for the first time in years, that the Republican presidential candidate will be on a more even keel thanks to voter ID," Miskin said. "The reference was nothing more than that to a statewide Republican crowd. Anyone looking further into it has their own agenda."
Democrats in the legislature say they have every intention of using Turzai's remarks in litigation to overturn the months-old voter ID law. That suit would be separate from one recently filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. The two groups are filing on behalf of 10 plaintiffs who they argue will be denied their constitutional right to vote.
It is not clear when Democrats intend to file their suit. Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D., Phila.) said Tuesday that Senate Democrats were gathering data from April's primary and from the special and fall elections they say will show that voters will be disenfranchised.
"Yes, we are Democrats," Williams said Tuesday. "But to have partisan politics infect the democratic process upon which this country stands means you are tearing down the very Constitution which they are hypocritically standing upon."
The Department of State, which oversees elections, has launched an aggressive statewide campaign to educate voters on the new law. It includes print and television ads, mass mailings, and robocalls.
The state Department of Transportation is also providing nondriver IDs free to Pennsylvanians who apply for them.
But voter ID critics counter that those efforts won't be enough and that PennDot's free licenses won't be free - they will require people to obtain, and pay for, documents such as birth certificates. In the process, the elderly, the disabled and the poor will be disproportionately hurt, they argue.
"This law is going to disenfranchise voters," Leach said.
He added: "If you have to stop people from voting to win elections, your ideas suck."