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Politics & Government

PA House Speaker Says He Won’t Run For Re-Election

Pennsylvania’s state House Speaker says he won’t run for re-election this year, after 27 years serving in the Legislature.

Sam Smith, a 14-term Republican legacy from Punxsutawney, said he just stopped enjoying the job.

“I wasn’t putting 100 percent into it, in the sense that I used to always say – no matter how bad and crazy things were around here – I could say, ‘Yeah but I still really enjoy my work, I really love the fights, the battles, the political wrangling that goes on,’” Smith said. “You need to really want to be doing it.”

Smith said the polarized nature of the Legislature is “a factor” in his decision not to run for re-election, though it’s not the entire explanation.

“I’ve been a teething ring of sorts, sometimes between the House and the Senate, sometimes between a governor and the Legislature, sometimes between elements in our caucus,” Smith said. “And when you’re the teething ring, that means someone’s always chewing on you, and it wears you out.”

Had Smith decided to run for re-election this year, he would have faced a primary challenge from Cris Dush, the same man whom he narrowly defeated in a primary two years ago.

“The notion that I’m walking away from a fight is, to me, laughable,” Smith said. “I think my history in this building (is) of not walking away from fights – sometimes walking into them.”

Smith was elected in 1986, succeeding his father, who served as a House member from 1963 to 1986.

“I literally grew up in a household answering constituent calls,” said the younger Smith.

He studied advertising at Penn State, receiving a degree from the university’s journalism department. After short stints in advertising jobs and with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, he ran for his father’s seat in the General Assembly.

Smith has been a ready negotiator during his years in House GOP leadership roles. Most recently, he helped restart talks over transportation funding when the effort stalled in the House last summer. He’s also championed legislation to reduce the size of the state Legislature. (He said he’s hopes to see support for the move grow in the Senate.)

Smith said the Legislature has become more polarized over the years (and he includes both parties in that analysis), but he doesn’t think it’s unprecedented. He lays the blame for divisive politics at the feet of “the world of communications and the special interest groups.”

Smith said he has no plans to run for another elected office. Until the current legislative session concludes at the end of November, he is still the House speaker, and he said he’s not thinking yet about what he’ll do next, focusing instead on getting a budget done by the end of June.

“I’m curiously interested in how someone in the office of speaker who’s not running again, how the other members react to that,” Smith said. “Do you lose some influence in this place?”