The state General Assembly shortly will recess for the summer. The House’s last scheduled session day before the break is Wednesday; the Senate’s last scheduled session day is June 30. Republican state Rep. Bryan Cutler, of Peach Bottom, was unanimously elected speaker of the Pennsylvania House on Monday. He is the first speaker from Lancaster County since 1929-30.
Congratulations, Speaker Cutler.
As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Gillian McGoldrick reported, you have gone from rank-and-file representative to majority whip to majority leader and now to speaker in just 13 years — an impressively quick rise.
And you’re just 45 years old.
As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Sam Janesch has reported, you’ve become “a reliably conservative voice in Harrisburg,” and you’re popular among your colleagues. You’ve opposed expanding gambling and legalizing recreational marijuana, and, as majority leader, “focused on multibill packages on human trafficking, juvenile justice reforms and career and technical education.”
These are all laudable efforts.
Because, as our grandmothers told us, there’s no rest for the weary, we now have a few requests.
We hope you’ll do your part to quiet some of the partisan rancor in Harrisburg — a herculean task, we’ll grant, in a presidential-election year.
Perhaps to that end, your speakership began with a lovely gesture: One of the members who nominated you Monday was Rep. Pam DeLissio, a Democrat from Philadelphia, and you invited her to speak. As she noted, the invitation was a gesture signaling your desire to “find that joint path forward.”
We cannot see you repeating former Speaker Mike Turzai’s political mistake of celebrating voter ID legislation as a means of winning Pennsylvania for the Republican presidential candidate.
Moreover, you come from a county where pragmatism and cooperation generally are valued over grandstanding and politicking.
When a barn burns in Lancaster County, nobody asks the political affiliation of the firefighters and neighbors who turn up to extinguish it. They just put out the fire.
A pandemic is a similar kind of emergency. It requires all capable hands on deck, not finger-pointing.
It sometimes seems to us that there’s a divide between those worried about, and impacted by, COVID-19 and those who are more anxious about its economic fallout. Speaker Cutler: You’ve known sorrow and loss in your life. You can speak with empathy about both economic hardship and the devastating impact of illness to bring people together.
Call Gov. Tom Wolf. Make it clear that you’re willing to work with him to shepherd the commonwealth through the next stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He’s made mistakes in trying to navigate what was uncharted terrain. Your party has made mistakes, too. As the new House speaker, you can restart the conversation and make it a more productive one.
And Gov. Wolf: Please see this as an opportunity for a fresh start with the Legislature.
Now back to you, Speaker Cutler.
Apparently you agree that mask-wearing isn’t a political matter, as we’ve seen images of you wearing a mask on the House floor. Your willingness to wear a mask sends an important and much-needed public health message, so thank you.
There are other urgent issues that also need your attention — notably, policing reform and racial injustice.
We’re glad the House and Senate have passed some policing reforms in committee, setting them up for possible votes this week. The fast-tracking of this legislation is appreciated, but we’d like to see a comprehensive approach.
Former Speaker Turzai supported a special legislative session to address these issues. If it turns out to be necessary, Wolf should call one.
If he doesn’t, why not just delay the start of the summer recess?
The Lancaster County work ethic requires that a job undertaken be completed — and completed well. And no one can correctly say that the Legislature has done its job well enough to now take a lengthy break.
The General Assembly is, after all, supposed to be a full-time Legislature, and its members are paid like one. Its schedule should reflect its full-time status.
Especially now, with the pandemic continuing to pose challenges for long-term care facilities and schools. We need answers soon about the mistakes that were made regarding nursing homes and COVID-19, so residents can be better protected moving forward.
And if schools are to reopen in August for the 2020-21 academic year, they’re going to need support from lawmakers.
There’s also that ongoing crisis over race and systemic racism that goes beyond just policing.
As a former X-ray technologist, you must have appreciated the kindness of the Lancaster protesters who interrupted their own anti-racism march Thursday to take an ailing man they encountered on a sidewalk to the hospital. They had pressing concerns, but decided none was more pressing than ensuring that a stranger got medical attention. Their cause deserves the full attention of lawmakers in Harrisburg.
Moreover, as writers of letters to the editor keep reminding us, time is running out on House Bills 22 and 23 and Senate Bills 1022 and 1023, which would move us closer to establishing an independent citizens commission to draw voting district boundaries.
If there is any chance of ending gerrymandering in Pennsylvania before districts are redrawn after the 2020 census — for the next decade — these bills need an eleventh-hour rescue.
Democrats as well as Republicans have resorted to gerrymandering. If you’re worried at all about a blue wave Nov. 3, consider this: Passing redistricting reform would ensure that legislative districts are drawn fairly, no matter who’s in charge in Harrisburg. It has the added benefit of being the right thing to do.
On Monday, when you addressed the House as the newly elected speaker, you asked members to join you in pledging to “treat each other, other elected leaders, and our constituents, with respect.”
You continued: “Second, let us not ask someone else to do something that we ourselves would not do. And finally, when our term of service is concluded, let us leave things better than the way we found them. And let us do our work together.”
There is no time like now to do that work.