Pa. House speaker not seeking re-election

Punxsutawney Republican Sam Smith served more than 25 years


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HARRISBURG — House Speaker Sam Smith, a Punxsutawney Republican who served more than a quarter-century in the seat once held by his father, said Tuesday that a waning desire for legislative battle has dissuaded him from seeking another term in office.

His decision sets up an opening after the November elections at the top of the House leadership, a position Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, presumably would consider seeking should Republicans hold the majority. A spokesman for Mr. Turzai said the Republican leader remains focused on the state budget due June 30 and the upcoming elections. Other members of the party’s leadership also shied from openly discussing the position.

“We have money to raise and we have races to win,” said state Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, and the caucus secretary. “If we don’t stay in the majority, there’s no purpose in talking about speaker and who’s going to be leader.”

Mr. Smith was widely recognized as a force behind the passage last fall of a major transportation-funding bill, a law praised by Gov. Tom Corbett, Democrats and business leaders but criticized by some conservatives. In 2012, he came within 500 votes — 7 percentage points — of losing his primary election.

But he said Tuesday that neither played a role in his decision to retire from the Legislature after November. Mr. Smith, who grew up answering constituents’ phone calls for his father, state Rep. L. Eugene “Snuffy” Smith, said he had simply lost the will to fully engage.

“I have always tried to be a uniter, a moderator, somebody that brings people together,” he told reporters. “Consequently, in some ways I feel like I’ve been a teething ring of sorts, sometimes between the House and the Senate, sometimes between a governor and a Legislature, sometimes between elements in our caucus.

“And when you’re the teething ring, that means somebody’s always chewing on you, and it wears you out. In any given time frame, whether over the course of a week, a year or a lifetime, you only have so much energy that’s there.”

Mr. Smith won election in 1986 to the House seat his father had held since 1963. Sam Smith was elected House speaker in January 2011 after Republicans retook the majority.

In a 2005 interview, a House archivist asked the elder Mr. Smith if he had offered his son advice. “Yeah. Most of it he didn’t take,” Mr. Smith said with a laugh, according to the transcript.

Mr. Smith is seen as a deal-maker in a caucus with a broad ideological sweep. A conservative member, Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, said many view Mr. Smith as a bridge between rural conservatives and southeastern Republicans.

“To be the leader of the Republican caucus, you really have to be a leader,” said another member, Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon. “You have to bring all those groups together.”

“I’ve always seen Sam as the calming factor in our caucus,” Mr. Vereb said. “Frankly he’s almost been like the fatherly person in our caucus.”

Terry Madonna, a professor at Franklin & Marshall College and longtime observer of state politics, said he sees Mr. Smith as a pragmatic conservative.

“I’m sorry he’s not coming back,” said Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont. “Obviously we didn’t agree on all the issues, but we worked together. He cared deeply about the institution, and we’ll miss him.”


Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141. Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254. First Published February 11, 2014 11:14 AM

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