Mr. Speaker: Lancaster County Rep. Bryan Cutler takes the gavel

Pa. House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, speaks at a Capitol news conference on 4/17/19 (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

(This breaking story will be updated)

Bryan Cutler is the newest speaker of the Pennsylvania House.

Cutler, a 45-year old Lancaster County Republican, will now preside over the legislative body that can trace its roots back to the 1680’s. He replaces Mike Turzai, the Allegheny County Republican who resigned office on June 15.

Cutler will take over the lower chamber in the middle of turbulent political times. The state is still slowly reopening from the COVID-19 pandemic and faces a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall that still must be filled.

Meanwhile, protesters continue to march in the street asking for policing reform, all with less than five months until the 2020 election, with both the presidency of Donald Trump and control of the General Assembly potentially up for grabs.

“At this time, in this hour, and under our watch, our commonwealth needs the best of this institution” Cutler said.

First elected in 2006, his nearly 14-year long ascent to hold the speaker’s gavel is among the quickest in modern history. 

He has only served in leadership since 2016, and was majority leader for just 18 months. As speaker, Cutler, a former x-ray technologist and attorney, will now have a say over the day-to-day operations of the chamber, calling up bills, enforcing rules, and controlling the chamber’s debate.

Elected as part of the 2006 pay raise controversy, Cutler has taken a particular interest in health care policy. In 2019, he and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf cooperated to create a state health care exchange, with proceeds funding a program to lower insurance premiums.

Cutler has also authored an update to the state’s lobbying disclosure rules, changes to hospital licensing, and stricter controls on a state low income utility assistance programs, all of which have become law.

He’s taken the usual conservative position on many issues, including opposing abortion rights and supporting gun rights, though he did vote in 2018 to make it easier to take guns from convicted domestic abusers. 

In 2015, following the Paris terrorist attacks, he voiced skepticism about allowing Syrian refugees into the state.

Cutler has also sponsored proposals to ban the automatic deduction of union dues from state paychecks, known as paycheck protection, and voted unsuccessfully for a similar measure in 2017.

Cutler has also been at the forefront of the General Assembly’s efforts to reopen Pennsylvania amid the COVID-19 pandemic, scheduling votes to reopen industries on a piecemeal basis, while forcefully arguing for the separation of powers.

Lawmakers and lobbyists have described Cutler as a wonk, who, while owning a strong viewpoint, will hear out others and allow for disagreement.

As majority leader, Cutler has allowed votes on bills he does not support, from okaying hunting on Sunday to allowing to-go mixed drinks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This stands in stark contrast to his predecessor, Turzai, who was known for prioritizing his ideology over all others, even fellow Republicans.

“The Cutler House will allow us to develop great ideas,” Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong, said on the House Floor while nominating Cutler for speaker.

But Cutler also faces skepticism from Democrats due to his decision to hide a positive COVID-19 case from fellow House lawmakers and staff, citing federal medical privacy laws.

They nominated their own leader, Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, for the speakership. All but two Democrats voted for Dermody before — as is chamber custom — the veteran Democrat asked that Cutler’s election instead be recorded as unanimous.