The other Turzai succession question: Can the GOP hold his seat? | Friday Morning Coffee

June 12, 2020 7:13 am

Emily Skopov (Facebook)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

You’re going to hear a great deal of discussion over the next few days over who might be next in line to succeed state House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, who’s retiring on June 15. In the near term, at least, House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, will hold the post while the House GOP caucus holds leadership elections later this month.

But there’s another succession question that’s of equal or greater importance: With his retirement, did Turzai just hand his 28th District seat, which sits securely in Pittsburgh’s suburban North Hills, over to the Democrats?

Based on some compelling conversations with folks on the ground out there, early signs point to “Quite possibly.”

Or … perhaps …

“Absolutely,” one veteran GOP operative said when they were asked whether Democrats had a chance of flipping a district that, like the rest of Allegheny County’s suburbs, has been trending steadily blue over the last few years.

In 2018, Democrat Emily Skopov, a nonprofit executive from suburban Wexford and a political unknown, came within 9 percentage points of beating Turzai in that year’s Blue Wave election.

The result was reflective of the changing face of the region, which also sent now-Democratic Sen. Lindsey Williams to Harrisburg representing a formerly Republican district. Months later, Allegheny County voters also picked now Democratic Sen. Pam Iovino for the seat formerly held by current GOP U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler. Ditto for U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-18th District, who wrested his suburban seat from the GOP as well.

Emboldened by that narrow loss in 2018, Skopov is running again, this time against Turzai’s would-be successor, businessman Rob Mercuri.

The match-up is a “classic example of what’s happening in the North Hills,” and the political changes that have been impacting the Pittsburgh suburbs, the Republican observer said.

And this time, Skopov comes to the field armed with two advantages she didn’t have in 2018.

House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, speaks at a 2019 press conference. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Skopov is “now running with name recognition, a base from which to build enthusiasm from the presidential race, and a pretty substantial amount of money coming into Democratic races in general,” said one Democratic observer, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly.

Skopov, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, netted 8,664 votes on her way to winning the nomination, according to unofficial tallies from the Department of StateMercuri, who ran in a three-way Republican primary, pulled 5,451 votes from GOP voters.

All told, the three GOP candidates ran nearly even at a combined 8,600 votes, according to unofficial tallies, reinforcing the highly competitive nature of the race.

Through May 18, Skopov reported raising $63,911, and with $81,942 available to her, had spent $51,430, leaving her with $30,512 on-hand, and debts of $32,311, according to campaign finance filings. Mercuri reported spending just $5,836 during the same period, according to campaign filings.

Observers on both sides say that Mercuri’s attempts to position himself as a Trump Republican likely won’t go down well with the district’s college-educated voters, who have soured on the 45th president’s antics. And being “Turzai’s guy” may not be enough to close the deal either.

Either way, this will be a far more interesting succession race to watch than the palace intrigue that will unfold in the House over the next couple of weeks — and its impacts will be far longer-lasting for the balance of power in the 203-member chamber.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Teachers sitting on Pennsylvania’s educator pension board voiced their concerns Thursday about a reform proposed by the state’s Democratic treasurer and a Republican lawmaker, Stephen Caruso reports.
Thanks to a gubernatorial veto, advocates of telemedicine, which filled a critical gap during the pandemic, are skeptical that lawmakers will take another crack at reforming it this year, Cassie Miller reports.

After a three-year fight, the state Board of Education has approved Erie County’s application to create a new community college — the state’s 15th. Correspondent Hannah McDonald has the details.

W.Pa. grocery behemoth Giant Eagle will no longer sell or advertise in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as the company pursues a policy to “stand up against racism and [for] social justice,” Correspondent Kim Lyons reports.

Our partners at the Pittsburgh Current profile students in one W.Pa. district who are leading their own fight against racism in their schools.

And Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has warned of layoffs if city officials cut the department’s budget, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

We’re turning our Commentary Page over to two women of color this morning, who offer their own take on the same question. From Harrisburg, Fiordaliza ‘Ana’ White, says the road to allyship isn’t always smooth, but it is one that we must walk together. And writing from Pittsburgh, opinion regular Aryanna Hunter offers these five tips for being a more effective ally.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 03: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a Super Tuesday campaign event at Baldwin Hills Recreation Center on March 3, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Biden is hoping his make-or-break victory in the South Carolina primary has influenced Super Tuesday voters to lean toward him. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Former Veep Joe Biden visited West Philly on Thursday where he talked about his plan to restart the national economy, the Inquirer reports.
500 people attended an anti-racism march in O’Hara, Pa., on Thursday, the Tribune-Review reports.
Pa. is one of 23 states that keeps police disciplinary records secretPennLive reports. Reformers are looking to change that.
The Morning Call profiles one Lehigh Valley family that’s been hit hard by coronavirus — a dozen have been infected, three have died.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

Set to go yellow today, Philly is continuing its ‘slow slide’ toward reopeningWHYY-FM reports.
The PA Post looks at the Dept. of Corrections’ inmate reprieve program, and concludes it ‘came up small.’
Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown has formed a police advisory committee, the Citizens-Voice reports.
Attendees at upcoming Trump rallies must agree not to sue the campaign if they contract COVID-19NY Mag’s Intelligencer reports.
Politico profiles the city of Camden, N.J., which rebuilt its police department from the ground up.

What Goes On.
Time TBD:
 Daily Wolf/Levine briefing — or, maybe not, you can never tell.

Heavy Rotation.
We’re going out this week with a classic from the High Priestess of Punk herself, Patti Smith. Here’s ‘People Have the Power.’

Friday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred 
is ‘100 percent certain’ there will be a 2020 seasonESPN reports. The meter is certainly running.

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.