Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai consistently casts himself as a fiscal conservative, a safekeeper of the Keystone State’s tax dollars.
But one duty of the speaker — calling for special elections to fill vacant state House seats — brings out the big spender in the Allegheny County Republican.
Turzai on Tuesday called for three special elections to be held March 17 — just six weeks before the April 28 primary election — for House districts that cover part of Bucks, Westmoreland, Mercer, and Butler Counties.
County commissioners and election officials in three of those counties said they wanted Turzai to schedule the special elections on the same day as the primary.
They share three concerns: Counties are ramping up with new voting machines, there is more pressure to prepare this year because it’s a presidential cycle, and it takes time for the state to reimburse counties for the six-figure expense of special elections.
Diane Ellis-Marseglia, chair of the Bucks County Commissioners, called Turzai’s move ”a huge waste of money” that could be put to better use.
Jeff Greenburg, Mercer County’s director of elections, called it ”a tremendous waste of resources.”
Sean Kertes, chair of the Westmoreland County Commissioners, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the state should pay for the special elections upfront if they are not held during other elections.
Turzai’s defense? This is the way he always does it.
His chief of staff, Neal Lesher, said Turzai has “consistently called special elections as soon as practically possible to ensure that all Pennsylvanians have a voice in the people’s House.”
Turzai, now mulling a 2022 run for governor, declined to talk to Clout about that.
He is consistent. Tuesday’s action came soon after Turzai rejected a request from Philadelphia’s City Commissioners to hold a special election for the 190th District during the primary. They have the same concerns as their fellow election officials in the other counties.
Turzai ignored that and scheduled the special election for the West Philly district on Feb. 25.
It costs about $175,000 to hold a special election in Philly.
House Democrats, decrying Turzai’s behavior this week, accused him of wasting more than $1 million in tax dollars for the three special elections he just called, estimating the cost for each to be between $300,000 and $500,000.
State Rep. Kevin Boyle, a Northeast Philly Democrat and his party’s ranking member on the State Government Committee, on Wednesday said he will introduce legislation requiring that special elections be held concurrent to the closest primary or general election.
That legislation will be submitted in the Republican-controlled House, where Turzai calls the shots.
Democrat-turned-independent-turned-Republican seeking 190th District seat
The Republican City Committee this week named Wanda Logan, an employment agency owner, as its nominee in the 190th District special election, vowing that she will “change the tarnished reputation of politics-as-usual.”
The seat is open because former State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, a Democrat, resigned last month after being charged with stealing more than $500,000 from a nonprofit. Johnson-Harrell won a special election last year to replace former State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, another Democrat, who resigned after being convicted of bribery and other charges.
Logan, the Republican Party said, “left the Democratic Party due to her dissatisfaction with its continued corruption.”
Logan ran unsuccessfully four times as a Democrat from 2012 to 2018 in the 190th District, where 87% of the voters are registered in that party.
“I’m still the same person,” Logan said. “I’m just hoping people will judge me as an individual.”
Logan took a winding path to the GOP. She switched her voter registration from Democrat to Republican in June 2018. She switched back to Democrat in November 2018 and then registered as an independent 10 days later. She became a Republican again in January 2019.
Logan will face Democrat G. Roni Green, a business agent for SEIU Local 668.
Political consultant is paying back candidates after controversy
Rasheen Crews, the Philadelphia political consultant who raked in big bucks last year for shoddy work on nomination petitions for several would-be judicial candidates, has a new gig.
Crews started this week as a special assistant to the city’s new register of wills, Tracey Gordon, who defeated 10-term incumbent Ron Donatucci in last year’s Democratic primary.
Gordon spent the rest of 2019 ducking questions about Crews, who worked on her campaign. On Monday, she tried a new approach: rewriting history to suggest Crews had his attorney clear up the controversy last year.
“His attorney answered all the questions you had,” Gordon claimed, shortly after being sworn into office, when Clout asked if the controversy gave her pause in hiring Crews.
That never happened in 2019.
Crews, who will be paid $112,000 per year, also dodged questions last year about the petitions he collected, rife with apparently forged signatures, which prompted some candidates who hired him to drop out of their races. Crews again declined to comment this week.
So we tracked down his attorney, Craig Levin, who said Crews has “accepted responsibility and is working out arrangements to reimburse any candidates who approach him regarding the services he provided in the last election.”
Bob Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee, was furious with Crews last year, especially after hearing him talking in August about landing a top job with Gordon’s new office.
This week, Brady gave Crews credit for trying to pay back some of the judicial candidates. As for his new post with Gordon?
“I hope he does a better job with her,” Brady said. “We’ll see.”