Inside Mike Turzai’s history of bad luck with cameras | Friday Morning Coffee

September 20, 2019 7:41 am

Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny (“Friends of Mike Turzai” / WikiMedia Commons)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai probably didn’t expect to spend his Thursday morning doing battle on Twitter with the leftist agitators at PA Spotlight (not to be confused with the new investigative journalism outfit SpotlightPA, because that isn’t at all awkward.)

But that’s exactly what happened when PA Spotlight caught up with the Allegheny County Republican as he headed into a Catholic elementary school near the Capitol for a roundtable with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

There, Turzai, who’s one of the Legislature’s primary proponents of charter schools and school choice, was met by a pair of protesters from the Pennsylvania State Education Association, who, it can be fairly said, aren’t exactly fans of DeVos‘ support for school choice.

In what looks like a strategically edited video, Turzai appears to be doing a bit of man-splaining to the two protesters, both women, over state support for public education, which he says is at record levels (“Did you know that? I bet you didn’t know that”) and the popularity of charter schools, which “are also public schools, which you well know.”

One of the women involved in the exchange, Kathy Barvin, is a retired teacher. So there’s a decent chance that, yeah, she knows. 

Turzai’s argument about state support for public education is mostly true: Under his watch, state support for public schools have increased to a record high of $12.7 billion, putting Pennsylvania 10th among all states and Washington D.C. on per-pupil spending. But as the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reports, the state’s share of that pie lags at 43rd in the nation.

But Turzai was stretching the truth a tad on the public nature of charter schools. While they receive tax dollars, charters are, in fact, privately run institutions that are different, in some fundamental ways, from traditional public schools. For instance, while they have school boards, those panels are appointed, rather than elected.

(PA Spotlight screen capture)

And if Turzai had folded right there, it might almost had been all right. But he ended up taking the extra step of telling the two women that they represented a “special interest,” were more interested in preserving a “monopoly,” and “don’t really care about kids.”

Barvin retorted, “I’m offended by that,” prompting Turzai to reply, “I’m offended by your sign.”

When Barvin shot back that she had “dedicated my life to children,” and “sacrificed my time,” Turzai cut her off, telling her, “I don’t think that you understand that there are opportunities in a variety of different schools.

“And I think that those who are only about the monopoly and the special interest, and not the child, I think they need to think twice,” Turzai continued. “And I think that includes you.”

There was a bit more back and forth before Turzai went into the school. Taking to Twitter later, the Republican challenged PA Spotlight: “Post the entire video! You evidently cut the segment where I discussed record level of spending on public education.”

PA Spotlight obliged, writing that “It took a whole 30 seconds for the Speaker to start insulting a retired public school teacher.”

This isn’t, of course, the first time that Turzai has had the personal misfortune of being caught on video speaking his mind.

In April, speaking to an anti-abortion group that receives millions of dollars in taxpayer support, Turzai had a bit of a viral moment when he appeared to compare opponents of a proposed Down syndrome abortion ban to “the Nazi regime.”

“Oh, please tell us, far left, since you seem to have a judgment on this,” Turzai said, a scowl crossing his face. “Since you seem to hold any of us who regard the unborn child with dignity and protection. It’s sort of, like, we’re just beneath them, right? Like, what do you know? Move into the 21st Century. Isn’t that what they’re telling us? With their sense of eugenics – like the Nazi regime, right? Is that really where it is? Well here’s the thing, every single human being is beautiful. Everybody is capable and will contribute to this world. And everyone wants to feel the love of their family and friends and another human being.”

Then, of course, the ur-Moment in 2012, when then-House Majority Leader Mike Turzai was immortalized on video, bragging that a restrictive, and ultimately overturned, Voter ID law was going to deliver Pennsylvania to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Progressives have been dining out on that one for years.

Two takeaways, then:

1. If you’re a politician, and you’re appearing in public someplace, and you tend toward the … ahh … polarizing, always assume someone has a camera.

2. No one wins Twitter wars. Ever.

WikiMedia Commons

Our Stuff:
Stephen Caruso
 went to Betsy DeVos’ appearance at a Harrisburg Catholic school, where she plugged a $5 billion Trump administration proposal that’s basically the EITC program on steroids.

Caruso also has the results of a state House vote advancing a bill that would slap a $250/year fee on drivers of electric vehicles for the wear and tear they cause on state roads.

This Pa. family lost their daughter to suicide — now they want the people who encouraged and instructed her in taking her own life brought to justice.

Sarah Anne Hughes has the details on the full report of the investigation into Sen. Daylin Leach’s sexual misconduct. Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa reiterated his call for the Montgomery County Democrat to resign.

Gov. Tom Wolf joined with a bipartisan group of 14 of his fellow governors to call on Congress to include strong PFAS provisions in a defense appropriations bill, we, along with Susan J. Demas, of our sister site, the Michigan Advance, report.

It’s Climate Strike Day in Pennsylvania, and worldwide, Elizabeth Hardison has all you need to know to get smart, fast.

On our Commentary Page,  a Colorado College professor explains how the youth climate movement has put ethics at the center of the global debate. And a formerly incarcerated man from Pittsburgh says the state’s broken probation system is contributing to our mass incarceration crisis — and it badly needs a fix.

Pa. State Police SUV (Pa. State Police Facebook Page

The Pennsylvania State Police no longer track the race of drivers they pull over, making it tough to detect racial profiling, Spotlight PA reports (via the Inquirer).
Nearly 300 historic buildings are gone from Pittsburgh’s skyline, the Post-Gazette reports.
Three Mile Island is closing this Friday morning. PennLive wonders if you’ll miss it when it’s gone.
Lehigh Valley Health Network is swallowing up a smaller system known for its orthopedics practice, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

Facebook’s sidewalk ads in Philly hit ‘an open wound,’ WHYY-FM reports.
The PA Post has five things you need to know about this fall’s election reform agenda in the Capitol.
PA GOP boss Larry Tabas is still staffing up. PoliticsPa has the details.
After months of stonewalling, Mitch McConnell is finally moving that election security package, Talking Points Memo reports.

What Goes On.
12 p.m., Capitol Steps: Climate Strike 
rally and march

Gov. Tom Wolf
 has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to state Sen. Katie Muth, D-Montgomery, and longtime Friend O’The Blog, Lissa Richards, both of whom celebrate today. Congrats, and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
This song is by Rick Astley. It is new. It is called ‘Every One of Us.’ It is fantastic. Fight us.

Friday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
As is its custom, the Guardian has 10 things to look for in this weekend’s round of Premier League action.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.