Preparing for the unexpected: 4 questions with interim House Speaker Bryan Cutler | Thursday Morning Coffee

June 18, 2020 7:21 am

Pa. House Majority Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, meets the press after Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget address to a joint session of the state House and Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020 (Capital-Star photo).

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

With Mike Turzai’s retirement earlier this weekHouse Majority Leader Bryan Cutler got a new title: House Speaker. Under the chamber’s rules, the Lancaster County Republican takes on the gig until the House elects a new speaker and the House GOP holds its own reorganization vote.

The House is slated to hold those leadership elections on Monday. And unless something very strange happens, it looks like Cutler is on the fast-track to become the 203-member chamber’s next presiding officer. If he is elected, he’ll be the 3rd speaker from Lancaster County — the others are Frank B. McClain, in 1907, and Aaron B. Hess in 1929.

And he’ll be only the second lawmaker in the chamber’s history to make such as speedy ascent up the leadership ladder. Cutler has 13 years under his belt. Only former Speaker Kenneth B. Lee, who took the gavel with 10 years of service in 1967, became speaker faster.

Cutler recently took a few minutes to answer some questions the Capital-Star put to him over email.

The responses below have been lightly edited for content and clarity.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf delivers his sixth budget address to a joint session of the general assembly inside the House of Representatives chamber at the State Capitol in Harrisburg on Friday, December 13, 2019 (Photo from Commonwealth Media Services).

Q:  First up, yes or no, can you confirm that you’re seeking a full term as Speaker in your own right?

Cutler: “Yes. I sent my letter out at the end of last week.”

Q: Sum up the Turzai era in four words or less.

Cutler: “Passionate on issues.”

Q: What do you view as your chief responsibility as caretaker speaker until the caucus reorganizes?

Cutler: “The role is primarily administrative in terms of reading reports from committee since we are not in session.”

Q: What are your top legislative priorities for the summer and beyond?

Cutler: “As [majority] leader I was focused on the legislative issues of the members. I haven’t introduced a bill in about a year so the priorities over the summer and into the fall will be those priorities of the members and wrapping up issues between the chambers where we have each other’s bills.

“Given the unique nature of the year so far I also expect there to be some unexpected issues come up and like the ones we already have addressed, we will work on those issues as they come up. For example, no one anticipated this time last year the need for remote voting rules, the massive changes to the education or labor laws in order to manage through the pandemic. Whatever comes up we will work together to solve them.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

A quick word about the undercard: Generally speaking leadership elections are like volleyball games — every player rotates one spot. That may or may not be the case this time around. But here’s the lay of the land, as best we understand it:

Majority Leader: The obvious contenders are current House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, and GOP Majority Whip Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, who’s in the No.2 spot in the caucus. One big question: Will the geographically diverse caucus want two central Pennsylvanians in the No. 1 and No. 2 positions?

Majority Whip: We’re reliably informed that this could be a potential three-way contest between current House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, and Reps. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland, and Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion.

Appropriations: Current GOP Vice Chairman George Dunbar, R-Westmoreland, is a logical contender to succeed Saylor in the No. 1 spot. But we’re not counting out Rep. Seth Grove, R-York.

However it goes down, Monday should be a very interesting day, indeed.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Stephen Caruso
 leads our coverage this morning with a patented Capital-Star explainer on qualified immunity. In it he details why this doctrine, created by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1960s, is one of the biggest impediments to people seeking justice for police misconduct.

Elizabeth Hardison has all you need to know about the first day of testimony in a  Senate Judiciary/Law & Justice Committee hearing on police reform bills. The hearings, which continue today, comes two days after a state House panel moved a raft of bills as well.

The state Supreme Court will hear the fight between the Wolf administration and Republicans in the General Assembly over the whether the Guv has to abide by a resolution ending his COVID-19 emergency orderStephen Caruso has you covered there.

COVID-19 cases are trending steadily downward in Pennsylvania. But now isn’t the time to get complacent, state Health Secretary Rachel Levine warned during a briefing WednesdayCorrespondent Kim Lyons reports.

One of the nation’s biggest teachers’ unions, the American Federation of Teachers, has launched a TV ad blitz of 2020 battleground states, including Pennsylvania, calling on the U.S. Senate to pass the latest coronavirus relief bill, the HEROES Act. Cassie Miller has the story.

Maryland and other states are pushing the EPA to force stricter pollution standards for Pa. power plantsElizabeth Shwe, of our sibling site, Maryland Matters, reports.

From our partner publications:
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has declared Friday’s Juneteenth holiday a citywide holiday, the Philadelphia Tribune reports.

A June 24 virtual panel discussion will celebrate the publication of a new book chronicling the history of central Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ community, the Central Voice reports.

And to mark the second anniversary of his death, community advocates will distribute free meals Friday in the Pittsburgh housing project that the late Antwon Rose, a black teen who was shot to death by a white police officer, called home, the Pittsburgh Current reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning:
Community organizer Brandi Fisher, of Pittsburgh, makes her argument for defunding police departments and reinvesting the proceeds in people-centered programs.

Opinion regular Fletcher McClellan, of Elizabethtown College, looks at what 2020 does — and doesn’t — have in common with the landmark year of 1968.

And Joyce Ajlouny of the American Friends Service Committee says a reinvigorated Poor Peoples Campaign is the key to helping solve some of our current woes.

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden would like to win Pennsylvania in 2020 (Capital-Star file)

Three weeks after the fact, the results of the June 2 primary have finally been tallied. The Inquirer explains what that portends for November.
Giant Eagle is facing nearly three-dozen lawsuits over its mask policy, the Tribune-Review reports. Plaintiffs claim that it’s discriminatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Associated Press has what you need to know about Joe Biden’s trip to the Philly ‘burbs (via PennLive).
The Mount Airy Casino in the Poconos will reopen on Monday, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

The local NAACP has called for the firing of a NEPA police chief who was suspended for an inflammatory social media post that called for law enforcement to ‘just start shooting,’ to quell protests, the Citizens-Voice reports. 
A Philadelphia police captain has been removed from duty after protests over the Christopher Columbus statue in south Philly, WHYY-FM reports. 
Governors in 13 states have sidelined public health officials in an attempt to control messaging over the COVID-19 pandemic even as infections increase, reports.
Roll Call runs down the big differences in the House and Senate police reform bills.

What Goes On.
The House and Senate remain resolutely out of session. But there’s plenty of committee action to keep things interesting.
10 a.m., Senate Chamber: Day 2 of Judiciary/Law & Justice committees on police reform
11 a.m., G50 Irivs: Aging and Adult Services Committee

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one from Badly Drawn Boy to get the day rolling. It’s ‘Appletree Boulevard.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
The Ringer 
considers the long-term damage if MLB calls off the 2020 season — which could actually happen.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.