Republican Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai and Democrat Emily Skopov sparred from the outset of their first and only debate on Thursday night.
“My opponent has run the most negative, irresponsible campaign that I have ever seen,” said Turzai during the event, which took place at the North Campus of the Community College of Allegheny County. “More times than not, [Skopov’s] accusations are completely unfounded.”
“I haven’t seen a whole lot of integrity in our state government, that’s one of the things that got me to run in the first place,” said Skopov. “My opponent claims to have been a leader, but if that’s the case then I lay a lot of the blame for how we feel about Harrisburg squarely at his feet.”
The candidates are running for the 28th district House seat. The district is located north of Pittsburgh, and includes Bradford Woods, Franklin Park, and Pine, McCandless, and Marshall townships.
Turzai has held the seat since 2001, and has been unsuccessfully challenged by Democrats in the past, soundly beating his 2016 opponent by 30 points.
In the wake of Saturday’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, the candidates were asked early on about where they stand on gun control. Both condemned the attack -- Skopov, who is Jewish, added that it affected her “incredibly personally” -- before speaking about specific action.
“With a respect to a balance between Second Amendment rights ... and common-sense reform, you need leaders who are not on the far left or on the far right, but who can bring people together,” said Turzai. “Do I think that bump stocks, that turn weapons into automatic [weapons], should be banned? I think we should go in that direction.” Turzai also said he believes the state should expand criminal background checks, but that “we have already done much in Pennsylvania.”
Skopov is a gun owner and has been endorsed by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
“In terms of the NRA, my opponent gets an A+ rating ... so I’m not sure how he can claim to be in the middle on the issue of guns,” said Skopov. “I believe we have to expand our background checks. We should have a ban on assault weapons. We should make sure that we close the gun-show loopholes and that people with mental illness are not able to have access to weapons.”
Here’s where the candidates stand on other issues:
Privatizing Liquor Stores
“We should be moving into the private sector with the respect to the sale of wine and spirits,” said Turzai. “Common sense needs to prevail. We need to have limited government in the sense that the government doesn’t need to be selling wine and spirits. The private sector will do it better. There will be increased [tax] revenues because there will be more sales within the Commonwealth’s borders.”
Skopov, in a jab to Turzai’s anti-abortion views, responded. “So I guess we’re for limited government unless you have a uterus?” Skopov is endorsed by Planned Parenthood. “As far as the state store goes, I like having it be more convenient to buy wine, beer, liquor all of those things. But my question is ... how do we replace the [revenue] they currently brings into our state? So until we come up with a plan to replace that money ... I think we need to hold onto it for the meantime.”
Expanding The Statute Of Limitations For Reporting Sexual Abuse
Turzai cited the legislation that the House that passed twice regarding expanding the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse to file lawsuits, and believes the Senate should have passed the bill. “I am Catholic, and I still believe you have to pass this legislation.”
“Well, I’m civilly going to say that I agree with very much of what Representative Turzai just said as far as they’re handling this in the House,” Skopov said.
“I’m proud to say that I do believe climate change is real,” said Skopov. “So I’m happy to report I believe in science and facts. ... I believe that there’s a balance between industry and doing it responsibly. I think it’s critical that we fund the [Department of Environmental Protection] to make sure that the regulations that we have in place include oversight and compliance.”
Turzai focused on natural gas, and was critical of the size of the DEP. But, he also acknowledged climate change. “I do think that there is climate change and we have to find a way to reduce our emissions.”