GOP picks Smith, Turzai as new Pennsylvania House leaders

On the dais at a gathering of Pennsylvania House Republicans are (from left) Reps. Dave Reed, Mike Turzai, William Adolph, Sam Smith, and Stan Saylor. The caucus backed Smith for speaker and Turzai for majority leader. Both are from Western Pennsylvania. Story, B4.
On the dais at a gathering of Pennsylvania House Republicans are (from left) Reps. Dave Reed, Mike Turzai, William Adolph, Sam Smith, and Stan Saylor. The caucus backed Smith for speaker and Turzai for majority leader. Both are from Western Pennsylvania. Story, B4.
Posted: November 10, 2010

HARRISBURG - House Republicans chose two Western Pennsylvanians to lead them Tuesday, ushering in an era of GOP control in the state Capitol amid darkening skies on the commonwealth's fiscal horizon.

Rep. Sam Smith of Jefferson County was voted speaker and Rep. Mike Turzai of Allegheny County majority leader. They are to take their posts in January, when Republicans will have a 21-seat majority in the lower chamber thanks to last week's election results.

Smith, the current minority leader, and Turzai, the GOP policy chairman, pledged to institute tight fiscal controls to help Gov.-elect Tom Corbett close an estimated $4 billion budget gap, advance job-creating legislation, and restore integrity to state government.

"We are ready to do things that are bold," said Turzai, speaking to reporters from the floor of the House, which his party will control for the first time in five years. "We will hit the ground running."

The speaker and majority leader were elected by secret ballot in a closed-door session, so vote totals could not be learned. Smith had one opponent, Rep. Jerry Stern of Blair County. Turzai was unopposed.

Republicans already ruled in the Senate. January will mark the first time in eight years that the GOP will control both chambers of the legislature as well as the governor's office.

The first job will be tackling the 2011-12 state budget, Turzai said.

"We will start from zero with every department," he said. "We will ask everyone to justify their expenditures and conduct a top-to-bottom review of all spending in the state."

When asked what changes could be expected in the way the 203-member House was run, Turzai said the Republican caucus would be more disciplined and more open.

"We are going to do what we say we will do and we will work across the aisle for an agenda that Pennsylvanians say they want," he said.

Smith, 55, is the scion of a northwest Pennsylvania political dynasty of sorts. Elected in 1987, he represents the Punxsutawney area - home to the groundhog Phil - from the same seat his father, Eugene, held for 24 years.

Smith said Tuesday he had no "burning desire" to become speaker when he first came to Harrisburg. He vowed to work with Turzai to create a "balance of authority."

Turzai, 51, a lawyer and former prosecutor from the Pittsburgh area who was first elected in 2001, has been a forceful critic of state spending under Gov. Rendell.

This year he authored a bill that could serve as a model for a Corbett administration push to privatize the state liquor system. Corbett has vowed to make that a priority, contending that sale of the State Stores would raise an estimated $2 billion for the commonwealth's coffers.

Also on Tuesday, York County Rep. Stan Saylor was named majority whip, the No. 3 position in the GOP caucus and the person responsible for prodding members to get the necessary votes for legislation.

Two Southeastern Pennsylvanians were also named to GOP House leadership roles. Rep. William F. Adolph of Delaware County, ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, was elevated to majority chairman of that committee, giving him a lead role in crafting the budget. Adolph will replace State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.).

Rep. Mike Vereb of Montgomery County was named House GOP caucus secretary.

House Democrats are to hold their leadership elections Tuesday. Rep. Frank Dermody of Allegheny County, now majority whip, is seen as the leading contender to be the new minority leader.


Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.

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