Inside the state Capitol, the Speaker welcomed the latest addition to the House of Representatives.
In a special election in March, Martina White, an Elizabethtown College grad, had prevailed over her Democratic opponent in a district in northeast Philadelphia. And now here she was, 26 years old, ready to join the ranks of Pennsylvania’s legislators. She stood in the well of the chamber, surrounded by family and friends, waiting to be sworn in.
A judge from Philadelphia had come down for the occasion. But first a pastor spoke. He extolled the nature of religious freedom in the land, and prayed that wisdom would guide the actions of the legislators. Left unsaid was a plea to them to think about the least well-off in society.
Now it was time for White’s grand moment. She placed her hand on a Bible held by her younger sister, and was sworn in by the visiting judge. The chamber’s members applauded the formal addition of Representative White to their ranks.
The leader of the majority Republican party offered welcoming remarks. Then it was the turn of the Democratic leader. He noted that White’s positions on labor unions and fairness of tax policies — ideas she had espoused during the campaign — might offer opportunities for them to work together.
The Speaker noted that White was a graduate of the business program at Elizabethtown College. He cited the College’s mission to Educate for Service — in a newspaper interview White had mentioned its salutary influence on her life — and noted she would have ample opportunity to engage in service to the people of the state. He also stated that her background in business and finance would prove helpful as the legislature grappled with the state’s fiscal problems.
And so a new life begins for White, till recently a financial advisor working at MetLife. She will have to learn a great deal about the legislative process very quickly. She will be working with people with diverse interests, some sharply at odds with hers.
Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has proposed an ambitious budget. He proposes to impose severance taxes on the oil drilling industry, raise personal income taxes , and impose sales taxes on services — all anathema to Republicans. He also plans to reduce property taxes and certain business taxes, and increase funding for education.
The Republican-majority legislature will oppose many of these proposals while seeking to advance their own priorities. They will get into vigorous skirmishes with the governor. Compromise, civility, persuasion — these will all become critical factors in how negotiations unfold and the budget gets finalized.
All this will immediately test the mettle of our newest representative. But the occasion also presents White the opportunity to engage with the big issues that confront the state and affect the lives of her constituents. We wish her the best.