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Pennsylvania Speaker Of The House Talks Life In The State Legislature With Penn State Students

Through a School of Public Policy lecture series, Penn State students were able to hear from Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Bryan Cutler on Wednesday via Zoom.

Cutler began the discussion by talking about his career path and the road that brought him to the House of Representatives. Following high school, Cutler worked as an x-ray technologist and eventually moved up to an administrative position.

He then chose to quit that position and attend law school, catering to an interest he had carried since middle school. After observing the various laws that go on in healthcare, such as HIPAA and other privacy laws, his interest in law was sparked again.

While in law school, Cutler spent a lot of time giving back to the community and learning how much he enjoyed doing so. He served on the local planning commission as well as other local committees. This fondness of giving back to the community led him to run for the State House.

Though Cutler acknowledged that his career path may be confusing, he is thankful for the wide variety of professional experience that he has, especially within healthcare.

“Out of 203 members in the House, there are exactly four of us that have any kind of lengthy hospital experience. And yet, the process of policymaking is very health care-intensive, especially with the pandemic,” Cutler said.

He also said that contrary to what the public may think, the state legislature is not full of lawyers. Between just over 250 elected officials, there are only 35 attorneys. In fact, small business owners make up the largest proportion of state legislature members.

Cutler told students that there is a wider variety of occupations in the State House of Representatives than we might imagine. This expanse of knowledge allows for gaps in policy to be recognized and patched up efficiently.

Cutler encouraged citizens to reach out to their local representatives and share their personal expertise or field of study with their elected official, as anyone could end up helping your legislator fully understand a bill that they’re about to vote on. Cutler noted that he has been grateful for his constituents and their knowledge over the years.

While Cutler is now a seasoned professional, he was asked what it felt like to be a freshman representative 16 years ago. Cutler explained that his mentors were very important to his acclimation in Harrisburg. He expressed concern that the past two classes of freshman representatives have been unable to have a similar experience.

There are events specifically held for freshman legislators that allow them to talk with constituents and calm some nerves. Recently, those events have been unable to happen due to pandemic restrictions.

These events also give new representatives the opportunity to make friendships regardless of political affiliation and learn what each individual is passionate about. In such a charged political environment, Cutler worried that the lack of interaction between two classes of freshmen could have long-term effects on the legislature, and hopes to begin holding in-person events again soon.

One student asked how Cutler was able to stick out in a group of 200 people and climb to become the Speaker of the House. He said that due to his legal background, he was able to quickly pick up on and understand the rules of floor proceedings.

Because of this, as well as a photographic memory, he became a go-to person for speaking on various issues and bills in front of his fellow legislators on short notice. Before long, Cutler was leading floor debates.

After continuing to do this throughout the years, several of his colleagues suggested that he run for House leadership. Cutler became Whip for the Republicans for two terms, then served as the Majority Leader for one term before transitioning to becoming the Speaker of the House.

“By doing the job I had, I never had to worry about what job was next. My advice for young professionals is to do whatever task you have been asked to do and go above and beyond expectations. That will get you noticed, and people will act to promote you,” Cutler said.

Another student asked for advice for students graduating who were interested in policy or government but did not have a degree in political science or law. Cutler enthusiastically stated that this is exactly what we need more of in government, and any knowledge will surely be used and appreciated somewhere.

Cutler talked to Penn State students and faculty who are working on public policy research and are looking to make their research more relevant and accessible. He noted that one of the most important things you can do is reach out to your representative and tell them about your research, as they have the power to enact solutions.

“In the House, everybody generally agrees on what the problem is, but where the disagreement comes in is how to fix that problem,” Cutler explained. He says that knowing the cause of an issue, which can be found from research, can make it much easier to find a solution.

To wrap things up, Cutler answered a question about how he was able to separate his own opinion from his constituents’ opinion while presiding over the House. He told listeners that the Speaker of the House is nonpartisan, which he finds easy to uphold because of rules that are already laid out for him.

Cutler recognized that his constituents’ wishes come first in terms of voting on bills. Regarding Sunday hunting, for example, Cutler’s personal opinion was that it would be a great idea. Hunting is one of his family’s main ways of bonding, and allowing hunting on Sundays would give them some time to do that despite his busy schedule. However, his district did not support the bill, so to best represent them, he voted “no.”

Finally, Cutler gave a nod to his staff and mentioned all the different positions in Harrisburg that students can pursue, from administration to research to public relations. He finished by encouraging students to go outside of their comfort zone and apply for jobs they may not expect to be suited for.

Penn State’s “Policy Profiles” series picks back up on April 13 with Michael Hannan. To see what other events the School of Public Policy offers, visit the department’s events page.

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About the Author

Haylee Yocum

Haylee is a junior in the Schreyer Honors College studying immunology and infectious disease. She is from Mifflintown, PA, a tiny town south of State College. She is a coffee addict, loves Taylor Swift, and can't wait to go to a concert again. Any questions can be directed to @hayleeq8 on Twitter or emailed to hqy5213@psu.edu

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