Smith, Scarnati to lead Legislature

By a unanimous vote, state Rep. Sam Smith of Punxsutawney was elected speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, while state Sen. Joe Scarnati of Brockway was sworn in as President Pro Tempore of the Senate for a third time.

Tuesday was the opening ceremony of the 195th Legislative Session of the House, where 200 elected members took the oath of office.  

“I am honored that my peers have chosen me for this position,” Smith said. “I have a deep respect for this office, which is the oldest elected position in America. Over the next two years, I will do my best to preserve the dignity of the office and work to restore the trust of the people of Pennsylvania in their government.”

Smith is the 137th member to serve in this capacity and the second speaker in the history of the House to serve Jefferson County. Speaker John S. Rhey was elected speaker in 1852 and was one of three representatives to serve Armstrong, Clarion and Jefferson counties. He was a native of Ebensburg who moved to Armstrong County to practice law.

 “Once again, I am honored and humbled to be named President Pro Tempore by my colleagues in the Senate,” Scarnati said following his swearing in. “Certainly, we have accomplished a lot over the past several years, and I look forward to leading this chamber in the next legislative session.” 

Smith is currently serving his 13th House term and has represented the 66th Legislative District since 1986, when he succeeded his father, L. Eugene “Snuffy” Smith, who had served since 1963.  The elder Smith presented his son with the speaker’s gavel during Tuesday’s ceremony. 

Sam’s wife, Donna, and children, Alex and Zach, stood by his side as he took the oath of office from Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Thomas Saylor. 

Smith grew up working in his dad’s tire shop and also helped his father by answering constituent calls and letters. After graduating from high school, he earned a bachelor’s degree in advertising from Penn State University in 1978.  Following graduation, Smith worked in the construction industry and later in sales prior to making a decision to run for the House.

As House speaker, Smith is charged with literally “speaking” on the people’s behalf in the House of Representatives.

He will preside over House sessions, maintain order on the House floor, and protect the parliamentary rights of members during voting sessions.

The speaker also appoints committee chairmen, assigns bills to committees, and signs all passed bills and joint resolutions.   

Smith commented that serving for the past 10 years in various House leadership positions has been both rewarding and challenging and is one of the best ways to prepare for the position of House speaker.  Smith has been a member of House leadership since 2000 when he was elected Majority Whip. Since then, he has served as both the majority and minority leader of the House.

In his remarks, Scarnati said he wanted to focus his remarks on jobs, the struggles of working families, and the concerns of our job creators.

“We are going through the worst economy since the Great Depression, and I felt it was important to drive home to Pennsylvanians that focus must continue to be on putting people back to work,” he said. “With many new faces and ideas, I am confident that we can enact fiscally sound policy that will get workers working and businesses doing business right here in Pennsylvania.”

“With that said, a recognition of the fiscal realities of the Pennsylvania family and a reduction in government spending must go hand in hand,” Scarnati added. “Our attention cannot be diverted, as we are clearly living in difficult economic times. Therefore, it is not only necessary, but our responsibility to make difficult budgetary decisions, and ensure that our citizens are keeping more of the money they earn.”

According to Scarnati, there will be many issues facing legislators in the 2011-2012 legislative session, such as transportation, education, Marcellus Shale, and others.

“However, I am confident that we will not lose sight of our core mission of not compromising the family budget for that of the state budget,” he said.