In a now familiar narrative, a political neophyte is challenging an incumbent for a seat in office. Emily Skopov, the Democratic candidate, seeks to oust incumbent Mike Turzai, a Republican and current speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, on Election Day, Nov. 6. The contest’s winner will represent the 28th Legislative District, an Allegheny County area including Bradford Woods, Franklin Park, Marshall Township, McCandless Township and Pine Township.
In separate conversations, Skopov and Turzai spoke by phone with the Chronicle.
“People feel like the status quo is the status quo and it cannot be changed. I think we see that both statewide and nationally. People feel like they really cannot affect change,” said Skopov. As such, the Democrat is positioning herself as someone who will put the needs of her constituents first by “being accessible to the people.”
Turzai, who has served in office since 2001, said voters will make decisions based on “the record of each individual state representative.”
“The state representative race in the 28th District, as with all the races for the state House are based on policy,” he said. “People want to know that we are moving in a positive direction and we in Pennsylvania are.”
Turzai cited increased employment, contributions to public education and privatization of the state’s liquor and wine sales regime as testaments to his time in office.
“I think many people are going to vote on the basis of what have you done in moving Pennsylvania forward … and I have been a leader, a doer and a reformer and that’s what they’re going to vote on,” he said.
Skopov said partisanship is on voters’ minds: It’s “a disservice to democracy. It’s not really allowing democracy to function, and any politician who is really so hardline partisan, they should … be looking at my poll numbers and asking themselves how much trouble they are in because people do not want that anymore. I believe the majority of people recognize that it is damaging, and they are going to lose. So simply by running this way and coming this far, I have already shown what I am willing to do, and I think if I were to win, that in and of itself will help the partisanship.”
Turzai touted his work with the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition “over the years to pass important legislation, amongst them Act 70 of 2014 [which] offers free curriculum and training on Holocaust education for all schools in Pennsylvania, and as of 2017, I’m pleased to report that 96 percent of the [state’s] charter, public and technical schools are teaching about this genocide. … We can never forget those victims.”
The other legislation regards funding of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC) and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program (OSTC), explained Turzai, who credited his leadership with an increase in program funding.
“It has been at the forefront of our school choice initiative,” he said. “Keep in mind we’ve increased public education funding. We are at record levels of public education funding. … We’re almost at $13 billion. We have always felt that as we increased monies for public education, we have needed to keep abreast the monies for EITC and the OSTC program as well.
“One size does not fit all, and we want every child in Pennsylvania to get the best education for her or him possible,” he continued, “and while public schools do an excellent job it’s not for everybody. EITC and OSTC allow students to go to schools like Hillel Academy when they might not otherwise.”
Skopov said her nonprofit work and past involvements in movie productions are a testament to what she can accomplish in office. In 2011, Skopov created No Crayon Left Behind, an organization that works with restaurants and businesses to salvage crayons and prevent them from “ending up in landfills.” According to the organization, No Crayon Left Behind has given more than 1 million crayons to organizations in more than 20 countries.
“People find nonprofit work compelling, because you’re not just talking about actually helping people every day — it’s no benefit to yourself,” said Skopov. “That’s what you really want from a politician.”
Skopov’s prior involvements also include her work as a producer and writer. She was a producer on “Novel Romance” (2006), “Pacific Blue” (1996) and “Andromeda” (2000), and a writer and supervising producer for “Xena: Warrior Princess” (2000-2001).
“Having worked in that business, which is so collaborative and so many people and so many egos and so many personalities, there are a lot of similarities between doing that and working in government,” she said. “You have to get a whole bunch of different people with differing ideas to come together with their various visions and end up with a single cohesive vision for moving forward.
“What is the story we want to tell? I think what we’re doing in Harrisburg is, what is the story that we are writing for how we want to live, and being able to do that with so many different backgrounds and personalities in the entertainment business is weirdly parallel to this, getting all of these different people to come to the table.”
Both candidates shared experiences with the Jewish community.
“I am proud of being Jewish,” said Skopov. “I was raised in a kosher home, my grandparents were very religious, my mother is now practically Orthodox, some of my cousins have gone on to be Orthodox and some of them have gone on to be agnostic. We really run the gamut.”
“I’ve certainly worked with the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition for issues throughout the state and the region,” said Turzai, who also noted Temple Ohav Shalom as an organization he had visited. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.