HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ 199th session began last Tuesday with a swearing-in ceremony in the state capitol attended by Gov. Elect Tom Wolf and Gov. Tom Corbett, as well as a majority of both state legislative bodies.
The ceremony began the first terms of 26 new representatives, about 85 percent of whom are Republicans. Three of the four new incoming Democrats represent Philadelphia, including Temple student Jason Dawkins, whose 179th district includes the Frankford and Olney/Oak Lane neighborhoods.
Dawkins, who is currently in an international business dual-enrollment program with Temple and the Community College of Philadelphia, said business tactics developed in his major could help when it comes to politics.
“I want to be able to apply those same diverse practices back into governing,” Dawkins told The Temple News during a lull in the inaugural legislative session. “And making sure that we are not only talking about one singular issue, but also more of the complex, diverse issues that we’re going to be faced with when [governing] a state like Pennsylvania.”
Dawkins, who took two years off school to campaign and will attend classes during his term, said finishing school was something he wanted to do as “a personal achievement” and to be a good role model to his son.
“It’s not really how you start off in life, it’s how you finish,” Dawkins said. “I want to finish strong.”
Dawkins said one his main goals is increasing funding for public education, and he supports a funding formula.
“There are other districts throughout the Commonwealth that are suffering due to poor educational opportunities,” Dawkins said. “We want to provide an adequate education based on our Constitutional rights, and obligations to give all those counties, not just Philadelphia County, a fair chance for educating their children.”
Temple’s newest trustee, former Republican Speaker of the House Sam Smith will retire from legislative duty after representing the 66th district for the past 27 years. At the ceremony he passed on his responsibilities to Mike Turzai, the former majority leader who represents parts of Allegheny County in the 28th district.
Smith passed the speaker’s gavel off to Turzai as a symbolic display of the change in leadership.
“While there is power with this gavel, the more important thing is the responsibility that comes with it,” Smith said.
Smith was unavailable for an interview afterward, his secretary said. As one of his last acts in the house, he appointed himself to Temple’s board. Since the state’s House of Representatives only has four of the 36 seats reserved on Temple’s Board, Philadelphia’s AFL-CIO President, Patrick Eiding, was forced to step down when the trustees affirmed Smith’s request at its Dec. 9 meeting.
“I was told I was going to have the appointment again from the Speaker of the House, who for whatever reason, decided to appoint himself, and God bless him,” Eiding said.
Smith “nominated himself to be a board member because he believes in Temple,” Chairman Patrick O’Connor said.
The ceremony also marks a new term for Democrat W. Curtis Thomas, who represents the 181st district which covers Main Campus. Thomas, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, ran unopposed and saw one write-in vote against him.
Thomas told The Temple News in November that his goals included increasing gun control and abolishing the state-controlled School Reform Commission that oversees the School District of Philadelphia.
Joe Brandt and Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 215.204.7419 or on Twitter @JBrandt_TU, @Steve_Bohnel