GOP nominates Smith for highest post in state House of Representatives

HARRISBURG — Again referring to a football-player-and-coach analogy he used in his 2010 re-election campaign, state Rep. Sam Smith said House Republicans — put back into the game by the “coaches,” i.e., the voters Nov. 2 — are preparing their game plan.

“Well, we’re now in a position of kind of running onto the field,” Smith said Tuesday, shortly after members of the House Republican caucus voted to name him speaker of the state house. “Jan. 4, there will be contact.”

House Republicans held their elections Tuesday, electing Rep. Mike Turzai of Allegheny County as the majority leader. Other leaders elected Tuesday were Rep. Stan Saylor of York County, whip; Rep. Bill Adolph of Delaware County, Appropriations Committee chairman; and Rep. Sandra Major of Susquehanna County, caucus chairwoman.

Adolph and Major were re-elected to positions they currently hold, and Saylor was elevated from policy chair.

State Rep. Dave Reed, of Indiana County, was elected policy chairman.

“Basically, we are bringing in newly-elected members and reorganizing our caucus to prepare for the next session,” Smith said.

All positions except speaker take effect Dec. 1. Smith, while nominated for speaker, must win the majority of votes by both Republicans and Democrats in a floor-wide vote in January.

Still, with Republicans again gaining the majority in the state House following Nov. 2’s general election, Smith’s election as speaker can be presumed as safe.

“It wasn’t something I’ve spent my whole life trying to get, to the ranks of leadership, but once you’re the majority leader, it’s a natural transition to try to move to the speaker’s chair,” Smith said.

As speaker, Smith would be the presiding officer and basically have the authority to run the floor in terms of the debate, the flow of legislation and decorum.

If elected by the House in January, this would be Smith’s highest-ranking post thus far. He was named whip in 2000 and has served as a floor leader since 2003.

Smith succeeded his father, H. Eugene “Snuffy” Smith, in the state House in 1986.

As the Republican caucus prepares for the next session, it will meet with Republican Gov.-elect Tom Corbett “to start to get to know his transition team, to help bring everybody up to speed,” Smith said.

The House Republicans will also take time to organize their agenda for the new session that begins Jan. 4, 2011.

“Obviously, working on the state budget is the highest priority,” Smith said. “It’s a tremendous challenge to get a budget balanced after several years of spending more than we had.”

Another priority is to make Pennsylvania’s business climate better to create more jobs in the private sector — such as those created by Marcellus Shale drilling.

“There are a lot of jobs there in the private sector job operation, and we need to build that private sector job climate to create jobs and to maintain a healthy climate,” Smith said.

The post of speaker, a constitutional office, is the highest office in the state House. Smith said arguably, it is on par with the seat of Senate Pro Tem, which is now occupied by state Sen. Joe Scarnati of Brockway.

Scarnati also serves as lieutenant governor, from which he will be succeeded by fellow Republican Jim Cauley, who was elected lieutenant governor on the Corbett ticket.

“Basically, it’s the governor, the Senate Pro Tem and the speaker of the House in terms of the legislative branch,” Smith said.

Smith may not be the first House speaker from Jefferson County, but if elected, he will be the first Jefferson County-born House speaker.

According to Smith’s office, John S. Rhey represented Jefferson County and served as speaker in 1852. However, he was actually born in Ebensburg, Cambria County, to practice law in Armstrong County, where he served as district attorney for five years before serving in the state House.

About preparing for the new session, Smith said, “Things are going really well. We have a great new crew of legislative members, and they’re all bright, energetic people, and I think really committed to getting Pennsylvania’s fiscal house in order: Controlling spending, and creating a better atmosphere for the private sector.”