State reps detail life in Pa. political world
Wednesday, April 1, 2020 | 8:40 AM
by James Engel, Shaler Area High School
Mike Turzai sits at the helm of Pennsylvania politics, representing the 28th district of the state, which includes several sections of northern Allegheny County, including McCandless and Pine Township, since 2001. In 2015, Turzai was elected as the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, a position he still holds. In 2018, Turzai ran in the Republican primary for governor of the state but ultimately suspended his campaign three months later. This year, he announced he would not seek reelection, ending a near 20-year hold of the 28th district.
Lori Mizgorski, also a Republican, was elected to represent the 30th district of Pennsylvania, which includes Hampton, Richland, O’Hara and Shaler townships, as well as part of Fox Chapel, in 2018. Prior to this, she served in several local government positions in the North Hills and Shaler. Mizgorski also served as Chief of Staff to Hal English, the 30th district’s previous representative. She is a graduate of Shaler Area High School and has been a lifelong resident of the area.
Both of these Representatives volunteered their time for an extended and exclusive question and answer session with The Oracle.
Q: How did you get your start in politics?
A: (Turzai) I always had an interest in public policy and government. Like Representative Mizgorski, I was on my local borough council in Bradford Woods. Bradford Woods shared a police board with Marshall Township and Pine Township, and I was on that police board. By serving in those capacities I certainly got to know a lot of people in the 28th legislative district. My wife, Lidia, is a pediatrician and we were very involved in the community.
A: (Mizgorski) I am from Shaler and I graduated from Shaler Area. My mother was on the school board right after I graduated, from 1986 to 1992. We were already involved in the community, and for me, it started by helping local candidates run for office. Then the opportunity came up for me to run for Commissioner in the 2nd Ward of Shaler. I served on that board for nine years. I also worked for my predecessor, Representative Hal English. In 2018, when he decided to withdraw from the ballot, I ran for his place on the ballot and was able to secure this seat. It started from family and community involvement and progressed from there.
Q: What was it like first going to Harrisburg and entering the world of state politics?
A: (Turzai) It was an honor to go to Harrisburg to represent the citizens of my community. I knew I was not going to miss any votes, and I knew I was going to get involved in issues. I also had to learn how to navigate the legislative process. Really, from the day that I went in, I was focused on how to make Pennsylvania better at bringing back manufacturing jobs and energy jobs. I just started to focus on the issues that I ran on and introduce some bills to see if we could get them through. The Republicans were in the majority at the time, but ultimately, we did become the minority, and I had to learn what it was like to be in the minority. But eventually, we did take back the majority and that’s when I became majority leader.
A: (Mizgorski) For me, the transition was probably easier. I had worked for a representative, so I knew people and I knew how some of these things worked. I really took my local government mentality with me, which was to build one on one relationships with people in the community and really care about issues that others might think are small. Relationships are important and you have to truly focus on the people of your community and how to make their lives better.
Q: What is it like to work in Harrisburg and live in the North Hills? What is your work-life balance like?
A: (Mizgorski) It’s more than a full-time job, it’s really a way of life. When you’re in the community you’re always available for questions, and complaints, and inquiries. You think about it every day and every night. When other people are going out on Saturday night, I might be planning my week or checking emails. When other people are watching the football game, I might be packing and preparing for committee meetings that week. It is a sacrifice for your family. My husband has had to take on more responsibility at home and I’ve had to miss some things for my children. I do use the drive to switch gears. I do a lot of thinking and preparation while I’m driving.
Q: What issues are you currently focusing the most in the chamber?
A: (Mizgorski) We recently made changes to the “PA Do Not Call” [a service in Pennsylvania that allows people to opt-out of scam calls] list. I introduced a bill that passed the House and Senate unanimously, and the governor signed it into law. We already had a “Do Not Call” list, but the legislation made enrollment permanent so that you only have to register for it once. Many of the calls we get are scam calls that are coming from overseas or from non-legitimate businesses. If a legitimate business calls you with a robocall system, they have to give you an opt-out at the beginning of the call. It also prohibits those phone calls on legal holidays, and it extends the “Do Not Call” list to businesses. That was something both sides of the aisle could get behind because we all get those nuisance phone calls.
I also have solar legislation out there right now. We’re having a hearing on it on March 16th. It’s called “Local Solar”. You see people with solar panels on their homes, you can do that if you own a home. But if you’re living in an apartment or a condo, you don’t necessarily own the roof you’re under, so you can’t put solar panels on your own roof. This legislation would open the doors and remove barriers so that all electricity customers, which we all are, can subscribe to locally produced solar energy.
Q: During your term(s) in office, what do you believe to be the most important piece of legislation you have worked on?
A: (Turzai) During this term, there have been a number of important bills. “Energize PA” is the name our group uses for a package [of legislation]. Bill 1100 is one of those bills [in the package] that is designed for manufacturing and energy production opportunities in the state. Some of these bills have become law and others are still pending, but Bill 1100 is receiving the most attention right now.
A: (Mizgorski) Even though it may not be the most impactful bill out there, I am very proud to have pushed a bill [“Do Not Call” reforms] through in my first year as a legislator. I am glad that I have the experience of moving something all the way through from an idea to the governor signing it. In the future I definitely see myself moving more into transportation. It’s a big issue that affects everyone throughout the state, and it is of great concern to me.
Q: (To Turzai) You recently announced that you will not seek reelection this year. What are your plans following the conclusion of your term?
A: I think I have an opportunity at the end of my session to enter the private sector. I am an attorney by education and practice, and I have maintained my legal license. I do think that there will definitely be some opportunities for me in the business world. I will definitely miss it, it’s bittersweet, I’m honored to represent the communities and citizens of the 28th district.
Q: (To Mizgorski) You’ve moved from the local level of government to state government, do you have any plans in the future to possibly seek federal office?
A: I really like the state level, that’s what I hoped to achieve even though I really love local government. I still consider myself local government at heart. There’s a lot of cooperation in Harrisburg that I’m not sure really happens in Washington, so I very much like this level. At the state level, you’re still in close contact with the people you represent, but I think the farther you go the more removed you get. Not that your intentions aren’t good, you just can’t have the personal relationships that I like to have.