In 13 years, Bryan Cutler has gone from an X-ray technologist with little political clout to Pennsylvania’s Speaker of the House.
The Peach Bottom Republican was unanimously elected Monday by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to take the gavel from veteran lawmaker Mike Turzai, who resigned on June 15 and ended his five-year run leading the chamber.
In what is one of the fastest rises in ranks since 1967, Cutler quickly ascended from majority whip in 2015, to majority leader in 2019, and now to speaker. At 45, he is the youngest speaker since Bill DeWeese in 1993, who was 43 when elected.
In his first remarks as speaker, Cutler charged his colleagues with the same three things he led with in his first day as majority leader: treat others with respect, don't ask other's to do something that you are not willing to do, and leave things better than when they found them.
"[Pennsylvania's founder William Penn] hoped this place would become an example for the rest of the world for what can be accomplished when all people are provided with freedom, liberty and the opportunity to live and worship as they see fit," he said.
"I can only imagine how proud William Penn would be that Pennsylvania has endured," he later added.
Cutler is also the first speaker from Lancaster County since Rep. Aaron Hess, who served in the position from 1929 to 1930, when the stock market crash launched the country into the Great Depression. With unemployment now at its worst levels since then, Cutler is stepping into the speaker role as the state continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I think that history has made it plain that the shortest speeches are often the best," Cutler said during his first remarks as speaker. "Today my words will not be short because they are the best, they will be short because this General Assembly and this House of Representatives does not have time to waste."
Rep. Dave Hickernell (R., West Donegal) nominated Cutler on the House floor, noting he and other former representatives from Lancaster County knew “almost immediately” that Cutler had potential to become a leader in the House.
“Most of you know that I’ve been one of Bryan’s biggest cheerleaders over the years, but even I never imagined that he would so quickly rise through the ranks to be whip, majority leader and today be a candidate for speaker of this great House,” Hickernell said during his nomination remarks before Cutler was elected.
Cutler was also nominated by Rep. Pam DeLissio, a Philadelphia County Democrat. She spoke at his invitation. DeLissio, who worked with Cutler for 18 months to improve a piece of health care legislation, said by inviting a colleague from the minority party, he was setting up his speakership as a reminder to “find that joint path forward.”
After being sworn in, Cutler was handed the gavel by former Rep. Scott Boyd, who previously represented the district now held by Rep. Keith Greiner (R., Upper Leacock).
Much of Cutler's speakership is unique including: his young age, taking on the role half way through the year, becoming speaker a few months before an election that could potentially flip out of Republican control -- all during a pandemic wreaking havoc on the state's citizens and finances.
Since his election in 2006, Cutler has remained a popular member and conservative voice in the state Capitol, opposing expanded abortion access and gambling. During his last 18 months managing the Republican caucus' agenda, he focused on legislating multi-bill packages on juvenile justice reforms, human trafficking, health care and technical education, among others.
Cutler hadn't considered becoming speaker until Turzai announced he was leaving the General Assembly, he said. During the last six months, he talked with members to see if they would want him to lead the chamber or continue as majority leader.
The speaker of the House is tasked with leading the chamber and enforcing the rules. Speakers can use their top position to push personal policy priorities, which former speaker Turzai would do. He is also one of the main voices negotiating budgets with Gov. Tom Wolf.
The Republican caucus also elected former majority whip Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre) as majority leader and Rep. Donna Oberlander (R., Clarion) to replace him as majority whip, House Republicans announced.