Sam Smith had harsh words today for a conservative group that had claimed the House speaker's decision not to run for re-election was driven by fear of losing his race.
"It is rare to see one combine such a lack of understanding of the political process with incredible arrogance, and yet you have recently succeeded in displaying both with your comments about my decision not to seek reelection," Smith, a Republican, wrote to Leo Knepper, executive director of the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.
When Smith made his announcement last week, Knepper told the Trib: "Were it not for the fact that he is facing a rematch against a formidable challenger, he would be seeking another term."
In 2012, Smith came within 500 votes -- 7 percent in the 66th House district -- of losing his primary race to a challenger, Cris Dush. He insisted last week the threat of a Republican contender did not influence his decision, saying he had barely campaigned last time around and that he now has polling that shows him in a comfortable position.
Today, the speaker responded in a three-page letter calling Knepper's comments "a tacky display of arrogance" and accusing him of failing to understand how conservatives can advance their agenda in a General Assembly elected by a diverse state. Citizens Alliance holds that an "Iron Triangle of career politicians, bureaucrats and lobbyists for Big Government special interests" has led to an excessively large state government.
"Your purist views are like those dictators possess," Smith wrote. "To the anonymous rich guys hiding under your cap, please note -- this is a republic where no one dictates and governing requires debate, understanding and respect for the other points of view brought to the arena of ideas."
Reached by phone, Knepper didn't sound fazed. For a quote from his group to have merited a lengthy response from Smith "is pretty illuminating, as far as we're concerned, that we must have hit pretty close to the mark," he said.
And he contested Smith's claim that the Citizens Alliance approach would lead to higher taxes and bigger government, things Smith said he has fought.
"For him to claim he's somehow a champion of limited government is just absurd," Knepper said. "Or that the Republican Party in Pennsylvania operates on principles, versus the desire to dole out patronage and simply hold onto power. It isn't borne out by the facts."
See the full letter: