Election of speaker draws mixed reactions



The new speaker did not talk about his platform for reform.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA BUREAU
Representatives from Mercer and Lawrence counties in the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives say they were just as surprised as the general public over the election of a Philadelphia Republican to the post of House speaker.
In a stunning move, Pennsylvania Democrats nominated state Rep. Dennis O'Brien, a Philadelphia Republican representing the 169th district, to the post which the parties have been wrangling over since the November election.
Democrats have a 102-101 majority in the Statehouse, but dissension in the party this past weekend almost assured that Republican John Perzel, another Philadelphia Republican representing the 172th district, would keep his post as speaker.
State Rep. Tom Caltagirone of Berks County, D-127th, announced this past weekend he would not support party leader William DeWeese of Greene County, D-50th, for the job, because of tactics over the years that included stripping Democrats of committee chairmanships after not supporting a 2005 pay raise for legislators.
Newly elected state Rep. Michele Brooks of Greenville, R-17th, said she voted for Perzel and is unsure what O'Brien will bring to the job.
She said Perzel laid out his agenda for reform before the entire Statehouse before the election Tuesday. Brooks said once Democrats nominated O'Brien, a member of the audience asked him to lay out his reform plans, but he did not.
"His agenda for reform is completely unknown," she said.
Brooks said she and some other legislators tried to locate O'Brien later Tuesday, but could not find him.
More optimistic
The Democrats representing this region were more optimistic about O'Brien's appointment as speaker.
"I was certainly glad to see someone new," said state Rep. Jaret Gibbons of Ellwood City, D-10th. "We didn't want 12 more years of what has been going on."
Perzel took over as speaker in 2003 when Republicans gained the majority in the state house.
Fellow freshman lawmaker state Rep. Mark Longietti, D-7th, of Farrell said he believes O'Brien is more in tune with the Democratic Party's goals such as property tax and health care reform and more transparency in government.
He noted the speaker is important because he has control over the agenda and what legislation makes it to the body for a vote. The speaker also makes committee assignments.
State Rep. Chris Sainato of New Castle, D-9th, said O'Brien has promised to make Democrats the majority on all committees because the party has the majority of members in the Statehouse.
Gibbons, Longietti and Sainato said they had heard the party was coming up with a new candidate for speaker, but did not know it was O'Brien until it was announced on the House floor.
"It was crazy. We didn't know what was going to happen," Sainato said.
cioffi@vindy.com

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