You are on page 1of 34

SPEECHES OF K.

LEROY IRVIS

1
FOREWORD

Leroy Irvis accomplished the greatest goal for which a political activist wishes.
An activist who called for social change, he entered one of the very institutions that for
centuries had worked against his advancement, demonstrated that hard work and
intelligence brought him to become the leader of that same institution, and in the process,
he changed it and Pennsylvania for the better. Many have been great social critics, many
have been great institutional leaders, but only the few such as Leroy Irvis succeeded at
acheiving both.

Leroy Irvis gave some of the greatest speeches ever heard on the floor of the
Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Sadly, only a few hundred people ever were
present to ever hear them. Fortunately, I was one of those privileged to have heard many
of his orations, and I can verify the accuracy of statement often repeated about the
eloquence of Leroy Irvis’s speeches. Visitors to the House chambers or the House
gallery often note the House chambers to be one where hundreds of people who are
scurrying about discussing upcoming bills and amendments with only a few people
paying attention to the floor debate. Yet, when Leroy Irvis spoke, people listened.
Perhaps the best dramatization of the greatness of Leroy Irvis’s speeches is noted in the
frequency of legislators who afterwards stated that, not only did they listen to Leroy Irvis,
they found themselves swayed by his arguments. Leroy Irvis was one of the legislature’s
greatest debaters and from those debates he was one of the most accomplished legislator.

Leroy Irvis served as a legislator before the days when floor debate was televised.
His spoken words are lost to the ages, although fortunately many other recordings of his
other speeches and interviews confirm his excellent oratory skills. Leroy Irvis has a
commanding presence and a brilliant analytical mind that enabled him to convert listeners
to agree with his views. He passionately brought the voices that many on the House floor
seldom heard and had neglected; that was, until Leroy Irvis awakened the legislators to
their issues. Leroy Irvis cared about people and for decades, Leroy Irvis was the people’s
advocate.

The following book is a selected editing of those speeches. Some will despair
that Leroy Irvis’s voice was only silenced when he became Speaker, for the Speaker does
not participate in debates. Yet, rest assured that Leroy Irvis was fighting just as hard for
his passions, and finally was able to do so as a leader in Pennsylvania and national
politics. Leroy Irvis won the greatest honor any leader can ever wish for: he achieved
changes that improved the lives of many. For that, Pennsylvania and America can be
proud.

SPEECHES OF K. LEROY IRVIS

Kirkland Leroy Irvis began political life being elected President of his Fifth Grade
class. As he reminisced years later on the House floor on April 4, 1977, looking back on

2
that grade school electoral victory, his analysis of his political life was “I never thought it
would lead to this.”

K. Leroy Irvis became a school teacher and later an attorney. While teaching
school in Baltimore, he found himself drawn to public service. On the House floor April
10, 1985, Leroy Irvis told how it was Juanita Mitchell, who was active in law suits and
protests against discrimination and whose sons would become noted Maryland
politicians, who encouraged Leroy Irvis to become active in social causes. Leroy Irvis
continued that activism when he moved to Pittsburgh.

Leroy Irvis entered public service as a social activist. As Rep. Ronald Cowell
recalled on the House floor on January 4, 1983, “while a young man in his adopted
hometown of Pittsburgh, Lee Irvis became involved in a range of community activities.
Some of those activities involved protesting certain public and social politics of the day,
which were clearly discriminatory against some members of the community. I am told
that while involved in such a peaceful demonstration, young Lee Irvis was challenged by
an older member of the community to run for office. The older gentleman told him that it
is relatively easy to stand outside and cast stones at the glass greenhouse. But, the
gentleman continued, it is more challenging and more effective to go into the greenhouse
and try to make some of the flowers grow.” Leroy Irvis accepted the challenge and was
elected in 1958 to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Leroy Irvis grew to become Speaker of the House. With that, he had a grand
career that included teaching, organizing against racial discrimination, arguing the law as
an attorney, and representing constituents as legislator. Within the legislature, his
dedication to duty for the public good allowed his peers to recognize his talent as he
steadily rose up the leadership ladder to the reach the Speakership.

On August 6, 1959, Leroy Irvis, as a newly elected legislator serving in his first
year, stood for the first time to address the House of Representatives. The legislative
tradition was freshmen legislators seldom spoke on the House floor. If they did speak,
they kept their remarks short. Rep. Irvis courageously delivered a lengthy yet engaging
maiden address. It was on a manner deep to his heart, racial discrimination, and he
would not be silent.

The proud voice of Rep. Irvis delivered a stunning presentation on a major
controversial topic. The Democratic Leader, Rep. Stephen McCann from Greene
County, took the microphone afterwards and let it be known that this was one freshman
legislator whose speech had been appreciated. Rep. McCann announced “I rise to pay
compliment to the gentleman from Allegheny, Mr. Irvis. For the first time this session he
spoke into the microphone and I think he added dignity to this wonderful House of ours.
I compliment him on his maiden speech.” The words of Mr. Irvis helped spark House
passage of the measure, which recorded 131 yeas against 66 nays.

3
Mr. IRVIS: “I rise to my feet as a freshman Legislator with, I believe, justifiable
trepidation. I decided when I first came into the Hall of the House as a bubbling
neophyte, to do very little bubbling and a lot of neophyting.

“I decided I would keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth reasonably shut.
Having seen what happens to the experienced men on this floor who rise to address this
august body, I think my rule is an excellent one. Nevertheless, the problem to which (a
bill prohibiting racial discrimination in housing) addresses itself is one of such magnitude
in this country and in this Commonwealth of ours that I find it incumbent upon me to
break my firm rule.

“Since the end of World War II all of us in the Hall of this House are aware that
we have lived in a house with glass walls. Prior to World War II, it was possible for us to
burn, to tear down, to destroy each other and only we knew about it. Since World War II
we have been watched by the emerging peoples of this world to see whether or not we are
actually, as the Communists label us, a bunch of pious hypocrites in our constitution, but
refusing to abide by our proclamation.

“We are watched by better than 2 billion people in this world. Most of those
people are colored. The white race, while in the majority in this Commonwealth and in
the United States of America, is not in the majority in the entire world. My children and
your children and perhaps our grandchildren will have some day to give an accounting of
whether or not we truly believe in the democracy we proclaim.

“The Supreme Court in Brown vs. the School Board in 1954, gave to the world
the proclamation that the elimination of discrimination was within the public policy of
the United States of America. This statement I think is no longer open to successful
attack. But this declaration of policy in the School Board cases has not solved the
problem and it will not solve the problem as long as the ghetto is with us. And the ghetto
keeps all the problems of the ghetto-economic waste, the waste of human intelligence,
crime, and disease. And crime and disease and economic waste do not remain inside the
ghetto but spread their evils throughout the total community…

“I am asking today…that no one in this Commonwealth shall be refused a decent
place to live because of his race, his color, his religious creed, his national or geographic
origin…

“In Allegheny County we built in the period of 1950 to 1955, 40,000 new homes-
40,000-and of the 40,000 new homes only 130 were made available for Negro
occupancy…It is not that Negroes enjoy living in substandard homes. It is the fact that
they are ghettoized; they are surrounded by invisible walls which have been raised not
primarily by the individual home owners, but primarily by the men who are in the
business of selling and leasing real estate, even though these men will tell you that they
are doing it only because their clients tell them to. This I do not believe.”

4
Rep. Irvis long continued the fight against discrimination. On February 21, 1961,
an amendment was proposed that would make the fine for an employer who engages in
workplace discrimination $100 or less. Rep. Irvis immediately understood what this
amendment actually meant and rose to argue against it.

Mr. IRVIS: “The proposed amendment would, in my opinion, so weaken this
measure as to make it ineffective and ineffectual. It would permit the biased and
prejudiced builders, if such actually exist in this Commonwealth, to merely add the $100
fine to the total price of whatever building he is building, and then go ahead and
discriminate. This would, in my opinion, be a license for discrimination rather than a
prohibition against it.”

The amendment was defeated with 94 yeas and 102 nays.

The call to speak out against discrimination reached Rep. Irvis again on March
21, 1961. Rep. Irvis requested and received permission to address the House of
Representatives on a non-legislative matter.

Mr. IRVIS: “We are this year, 1961, celebrating the Centennial of the American
War Between the States. The guns have long since grown silent, and the long lines of the
boys in blue and in Confederate gray have descended into history; but, unfortunately for
the welfare of this country and for the safety of democracy all over the world, the combat
stemming from this collision of two great historical forces still exists in the minds of
men.

“A National Civil War Centennial Commission, to which Pennsylvania belongs,
has been appointed to supervise the celebration of the 100th anniversary of that war. It
had been planned that this Commission meet in session at Charleston, South Carolina.
This meeting originated at the invitation of the South Carolina branch of the Commission.
A member of the National Commission, Mrs. Madeline A. Williams, also is a member of
the Commission’s New Jersey unit, is a Negro. She was informed by a hotel in
Charleston, South Carolina, that if she showed up with the other members of the
Commission for the Charleston meeting on April 11 and 12, she could not stay at that
hotel, which is to be headquarters for the National Commission, nor could she eat at the
hotel dining room with the other commissioners.

“So it appears, Mr. Speaker, that 100 years after the onset of the Civil War some
of the conditions which led to that historic struggle which cost the lives of thousands of
white and Negro soldiers still remain…

“Pennsylvanians gave their lives in the struggle to unify this country.
Pennsylvania was the battleground for part of this great war, and Pennsylvanians must
not now participate in any activity which negates the very purposes for which men died
from 1861 to 1865.”

5
The legislature in 1961 was vastly different from the legislature of today. The
Pennsylvania legislature met for shorter periods of time, required legislation to be filed
only when the legislature was in session, and provided legislators with little support in
terms of staff and expenses. The legislative branch in Pennsylvania conceded much
authority to the administrative branch. Rep. Irvis studied how the New York legislature
handled each of these matters differently. He then urged the Pennsylvania legislature to
adopt some changes that proved successful in New York. Rep. Irvis was an early
proponent as well as a leader in helping craft in Pennsylvania what has become a modern
legislature with strong oversight over government operations. Mr. Irvis provided the
House chamber with beneficial concluding remarks on his observations on August 7,
1961.

Mr. IRVIS: “In New York State the members of the General Assembly there do
not wait for the Governor to propose a program. They have their own program officials
and they draw up their own programs…They are truly a coordinate branch of the
government. They work on their own programming and they sit with the Governor to see
which part of his program they approve of. I think this is something we need to devote a
considerable amount of time and thought to.”

In 1963, Rep. Irvis ascended into legislative leadership. He was elected
Democratic Caucus Chairman, serving two terms: the first as Minority Caucus Chairman
and the second as Majority Caucus Chairman. The duties of this office included
conducting information sessions amongst Democratic legislators as they learn about,
question, and discuss the legislation before them. It placed Leroy Irvis in an important
position to shape legislation.

An attempt to take away having Election Board members selected by voters was
rebuffed by the legislature. Rep. Irvis was a leading voice in defending the election of
the Election Board. On April 23, 1963, he addressed the House on the issue.

Mr. IRVIS: “There is no miraculous guarantee to the people of this
Commonwealth that the men and women who will in the future sit in the seats which we
now occupy will be as concerned with the rights as we are. We trust that they will be; we
work that they shall be. But the only guarantee that the people of this Commonwealth
have against tyrants, no matter what they may be called, are those guarantees which are
written into their constitution and which they, and only they, can change at their willing.

“I think that history will teach every single one of us that the greatest threat to our
society is the ignorance or the lackadaisical approach of the electorate. If we here today
say by an affirmative vote that we do not care to further guarantee the rights of the people
to elect their own local officials on Election Boards, then we are inviting, in the future,
that tyrants may take charge and dictate who shall and shall not be qualified on local
Election Boards. I hope to never live to see the day when this will happen in this
Commonwealth. But I am sure that some place in the long line of history, which still
unravels before us, there will be those men, be they Republican or be they Democratic or
be they some party no yet born, who will seek to maneuver the election of local officials

6
on Election Boards to favor their particular personal aims. This is the very grave and
very great danger in this bill…

“I ask that all thoughtful members of this House of Representatives weigh
carefully their vote on this particular issue and remember that they are not now voting
solely for themselves but they are deciding what the future course of history may well
be.”

Rep. Irvis was quick to note and denounce inconsistencies in legislation. On May
13, 1963, he argued that a complex tax bill being rushed through the legislature by the
majority Republican Party should be sent back for further study by a legislative
committee. While the motion to do so failed, Mr. Irvis used a whimsical analogy to point
out problems with the bill.

Mr. IRVIS: “If I send my little girl out the day before Easter to buy an Easter
bunny and the little girl says we are going to eat the bunny, she pays no tax on it for it is a
live animal and falls under the definition of food. But, on the other hand, if I send her out
and say, buy yourself a furry Easter bunny as a pet, she must pay the tax…The
amendments are too many, they are too complicated, and they have not been sufficiently
studied.”

The blight of people in poverty greatly disturbed Rep. Irvis. On May 14, 1964, he
spoke out against the lack of attention paid to the struggling poor. He argued
unsuccessfully for an increase in public assistance.

Mr. IRVIS: “The Department of Public Welfare informs me that for a family of
four in this Commonwealth, a modest, but adequate budget equals $441 a month. That is
for an employed father, for the wife and two children. A bare subsistence level for a
family of four, according to the Department, is $235 to $238 per month. That is a bare
subsistence.

“What do we give to a family of four on public assistance in Pennsylvania? One
hundred fifty-three dollars and ten cents on average-less than 60 percent of what we tell
them is barely enough to keep them alive.

“Every single one of us is to blame for this situation and every single one of us
should search his conscience about it…

“It is not only deceptive, deceitful, and dangerous for us to force a half-million
people to live in this type of poverty, it is downright immoral and the House of
Representatives can do something about it. There is the money. The money is
available.”

Rep. Irvis demonstrated a strong sense that the legislative branches should be
separate. He opposed Administrative intrusions into the legislative branch. On June 10,
1964, he warned of the dangers of increasing Executive powers.

7
Mr. IRVIS: “My philosophy of government would deny to the Lieutenant
Governor the right to vote under any circumstances on any legislative matter at any time
because I do not believe he is selected by the people for that purpose. He is not a
legislative officer and should not be so designated by the constitution. That the
constitution as presently composed does so designate, I do not deny. But that constitution
is in error, I do affirm.

“I see an increase in the power in the Executive over the Legislative body,
namely, the fact that the Executive will be able to secure the approval of members of his
official family by a simple majority of the Senate rather than the required two-thirds vote.
I feel this increase in power is a dangerous thing and ought not to be taken lightly by the
legislative members in the hall of this House.”

During lengthy and heated budgetary debates on August 3, 1965, Rep. Irvis rose
with his thoughts. He provided his fellow House members lessons on politics. In doing
so, he gave us his ideas on what directions legislators should take.

Mr. IRVIS: “I am reminded of 1857, when the “Little Giant” Stephen Douglas
debated with Abraham Lincoln, and he thrashed the air and he shouted and he stamped
and he whispered and he orated and he was forgotten, and Mr. Lincoln was later elected
President of the United States. I am also reminded to be brief by something that
happened, also to Mr. Lincoln, at Gettysburg. There was a famous orator there who
spoke for an hour and 37 minutes. Mr. Lincoln spoke for only a few minutes. The
famous orator has been forgotten, and Mr. Lincoln has been remembered…

“I have met no one in this House of Representatives who is not charitable, who is
not interested in the people of this Commonwealth, even though we may disagree as to
the directions of this interest. But I point out to the members of this House that all
administrations, from the days of the Pharoahs to the Ceasars, to the kings and the
emperors and the Presidents and the Governors of states, have been interested in image-
building. All administrations have had to take up arms against some things or some
objects. You and I today are choosing sides. When we vote today on these matters, we
are going to decide in which army we fight…

“The sides are clearly drawn. You must decide today whether you follow the
banner of the Administration, which has chosen to wage war against the poor, the sick,
the old, the blind, and the helpless, or whether you will go to the people who are pleading
and fighting for these people.”

The House of Representatives, on April 12, 1966, surprised K. Leroy Irvis by
congratulating him on being honored with the Democracy in Housing Award. Rep.
Henry Cianfrani introduced the congratulatory resolution. It was unanimously adopted.

8
Education was an issue close of the heart of Rep. Irvis. On April 18, 1966, Rep.
Irvis rose to give praise to another legislator, Rep. James Gallagher. Rep. Gallagher
chaired the House Higher Education Committee.

Mr. IRVIS: “This man (Mr. Gallagher) has done more to change the face of
higher education in this Commonwealth in one year and three months than any other man
in the history of the Commonwealth. By making Temple a state-related University, after
deep and concentrated study on the part of this committee, the General Assembly has
benefited hundreds and thousands of families with children in eastern Pennsylvania. And
now by moving to make the University of Pittsburgh a state-related university with
reasonable tuition, the General Assembly again, following the leadership of (Mr.
Gallagher), will benefit untold thousands of families and their children in western
Pennsylvania.

Too long has the Commonwealth been nearly last in its efforts in the field of
Education. But thanks to the leadership of men like the gentleman from Bucks, Mr.
Gallagher, we have hopes that the Commonwealth will soon take its rightful place as a
leader in the field of Education among the 50 states.”

The issue of scholarships for students to attend private colleges arose before the
House of April 20, 1966. Rep. Irvis included personal perspectives into his arguments
favoring scholarships. The measure increasing scholarships passed the House that day.

Mr. IRVIS. “Before I became an attorney and a Representative, I was a teacher
both in the secondary schools and at the college level. I was educated partly in private
schools and partly in public schools, so I know a little about both…

“In New York State, for example, they are spending $72 million a year on private
scholarships. We are spending $4.5 million. This is a ridiculously low figure. This
reflects again how far down the scale of educational awareness the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania stands…

The present bill which has been introduced will increase from $4.5 million to
$11.5 million the state scholarship program. It is my hope that within the next five years
we will have increased that state scholarship aid program up to approximately $45
million. If we can accomplish this, we will then be in a position of saying to one out of
every six college students, you may have an award to place on your tuition costs for any
college you select.”

The plight of people with mental illness deeply concerned Rep. Irvis. He visited a
dozen mental health institutions during 1967. Rep Irvis provided the House chamber
with a report on what he found. His report led to the formation of the Bipartisan
Committee on Visiting State Institutions that was chaired by Rep. Irvis. This committee
was noteworthy in that over half the House membership served as committee members.
On February 28, 1967, Rep. Irvis informed the House chamber of his observations.

9
Mr. IRVIS: “I do not think we are making any real progress in the treatment of
human beings. I do not think it is progress to say that we have torn down a building and
put in therapy for some of the people who are mentally afflicted and find out that that
therapy is working eight hours a day, six days a week, in a laundry room.

“I do not think we are making progress when I have seen human beings stacked
so closely together in a ward that, if you wanted to put patient number three in his bed,
you had to move the beds of patient number one and patient number two to get to patient
number three.

“I do not think it is progress when I go down in the basement of one of the mental
institutions and find people huddled under blankets, with the windows broken and a
Siberian wind coming in those open windows. I do not think that is progress.’

“I do not think it is progress when I speak to a Superintendent and ask him how
many people have you been able to return to society and he says, “I do not know.”

“I do not think it is progress when we take the people who are our sons and
daughters, our aunts and uncles, our fathers and mothers, and stick them off in a corner
and say forget them; do not even remind us of them; build an institution with 2,400 beds
out in the country some place, put a wall around it, and let us ignore the fact that they
were ever born. But that is what you and I are currently doing. We are acting as second-
rate caretakers for human beings whom we are treating almost as poorly as we treat lower
animals, and that is pretty poorly…

“I pray that you and I will have sufficient foresight and courage to begin to
educate the general populace of this Commonwealth, so that mental illness can be faced
the way physical illness has been faced for thousands of years; so that mental retardation
can be, when possible, prevented and when it cannot be prevented, the mentally retarded
will get sufficient training to live as human beings and so that those cases which must be
caretaker cases are at least being taken care of in a humane fashion.”

Rep. Irvis knew how to incorporate wit and his scholarly knowledge into his
debates. On June 29, 1967, Rep. Irvis took the House floor to criticize a speech the
Governor had made.

Mr. IRVIS: “I will not comment on the Governor’s statement on the Republican
Caucus, except that I am a little amused, as a former teacher of English, to find that the
word “unanimity” is modified by the word “virtual” in this statement:” I must commend
the House Republican leadership for working day and night to bring about virtual
unanimity.” That is something like saying “a perfect circle which is slightly imperfect.””

Rep. Irvis demonstrated some more of his famous wit on November 26, 1967
when greeting Rep. William Allen on his first day in office after being elected in a
special election. Rep. Allen was a Republican legislator from a rural area.

10
Mr. IRVIS: “We…welcome a new colleague to the floor of the House of
Representatives, the gentleman from Warren and Forest Counties, where, I understand,
they have a few more trees and deer and bears than they have people. It was suggested to
me that we might possibly be able to elect a Democrat in the gentleman’s county next
time if we were to nominate a Democratic bear instead of a Democratic human being.”

On July 28, 1967, Rep. Irvis introduced a package of legislative proposals to
provide the Human Relations Commission with more powers to combat racial
discrimination in housing and employment. Upon the introduction of the bills, Rep. Irvis
explained the need for his bills.

Mr. IRVIS: “Can there be any doubt that the most serious problem we face in this
country today is a problem which has always been the most serious problem which any
country has ever faced, how can the human beings living in this country get along with
each other? And yet to a large extent we have chosen to ignore the most serious problem
of our time and of any time. We have chosen to ignore it until it has exploded in our
faces in a violence unprecedented in the history of our country…

“There is a greater evil than a riot and that evil is ignorance, indifference,
hostility, and stupidity on the part of the general community to the reasons of a riot. We
shall have accomplished nothing in this country and in this Commonwealth if all we can
do is put down riots. I cannot believe as I stand here, having been an American for 47
years, having been proud to be an American, having a heritage go back to 1696 in this
country, I cannot believe that this, the greatest country ever created, the most powerful
and the most wealthy and the most knowledgeable, cannot solve the social problems
which lead inevitably to the explosive and incendiary riots we have seen across this land
this year…

“Disabuse yourself of any belief that all is well; all is not well. Those of you who
do not come from the crowded, infested, boiling, urban areas of the Commonwealth need
to visit them if you never have. You need to listen to what the people who live under
almost unbelievable conditions would tell you. You need to know why people are finally
driven to the desperation of rebellion. People do not go lightly to their deaths; they do
not lightly burn and destroy…

“One of the main causes for riot in this land is the denial of decent housing to the
Negro people. Another cause, of course, is (the lack of) decent education facilities;
another, the lack of job opportunity, the lack of training; but one of the major causes is
our failure to provide decent homes for those who wish them, for those who must have
them. It is a hurtful thing for a Negro man who has to work for a lower wage than his
white counterpart must work but who works long and hard to support his family and who
sees his children withering in the slums. It is a hurting thing for him to go out beyond the
slums to try to purchase a decent home and to be told, no, you cannot have it because you
are Black. And that in essence is what he is told time and time again. It is small wonder
that such a man has a disregard for the society which breeds this sort of ruthless contempt
for his rights as a human being.”

11
Issues of social justice remained close to the heart of Rep. Irvis. During a May
14, 1968 debate on providing employment incentives to employers who hire the
unemployed, Rep. Irvis rose to defend the proposal.

Mr. IRVIS: “I have looked in the faces of thousands who are tired of words. I
have myself seen the face of the mob, bitter and ugly in its anger. I have myself seen
Pittsburgh burn and we have stood among its ashes. I caution that school will be out in a
matter of weeks. If programs of this kind are not implemented, not talked about-
implemented and implemented now-not next week or next month or next year. It is
perhaps too late….

“The summer is upon us and the heat of conflict threatens. I urge you to prove to
the suffering people, desperate in their ghettos, that the gap between words and your
needs is not intentional.”

When the Pennsylvania legislature handled a bill, on July 9, 1968, on abolishing
the registration of horses, stallions, and donkeys, few expected a legislator from an urban
area to display much interest in an equine issue. Yet, Rep. Irvis used his quick wit to
note this matter could be of interest to Allegheny County residents.

Mr. IRVIS: “I would like to make a statement on this most important piece of
legislation. Those of us who live in Allegheny County would be delighted if the rest of
you would take this step with us. This bill effectively removes the registration and, we
hope, the existence of all jackasses in Allegheny County. The rest of the State is
welcome to join.”

In 1969, Leroy Irvis became Majority Leader. In his January 7, 1969 inaugural
floor speech as Majority Leader, Mr. Irvis provided his thoughts on the legislative
system.

Mr. IRVIS: “Those of you who are newly elected here and those of us who now
must bear the label of veteran legislators are living symbols of the fact that our people
believe all wisdom, all strength, all leadership must not rest in one man. We are the
counterbalance to the kings; we are the voice of the people who say, we were born free
with the right to govern ourselves and to choose our own destinies.”

Leroy Irvis was quick to note political hypocrisy. On January 28, 1969, he
observed a contradiction between the political statements and actual actions of
Republican leaders. He responded with a proposal of his own.

Mr. IRVIS: “The Republican Administration has proposed a 25 percent increase
in the budget. This is the same Republican Administration that promises cost reduction
after cost reduction, and the net result of all these promises is a 25 percent increase in the
budget. I recall that the Democrats, for years, were labeled by the Republicans as the
“Tax and Spend Party”. I wonder who has to bear that label now…

12
“We are going to propose legislation this term to bring the system into being in
Pennsylvania whereby the legislature participates fully in the preparation of budgets…
We are the ones who ought to have the facts placed before us…

“We believe that the people of Pennsylvania will support a tax program if they are
convinced that the money is spent and fairly raised. It is our responsibility to see that the
money is well spent and that the taxes are fairly raised. We intend to carry out those
responsibilities.””

Reforming the legislative process and making it more democratic was a long
struggle for which Rep. Irvis fought. His dedication and hard work for such reform led to
many beneficial changes. Mr. Irvis made note of some of these legislative reforms on
February 4, 1969.

Mr. IRVIS: “For the first time in the history of this House of Representatives, the
autocratic and complete control of committees formerly held by the chairmen, both
Republican and Democrat alike, has been significantly reduced. I think the term
“significant” is important. We have not yet reached what all of us agree is the ideal
solution in the operation of the House of Representatives. But I am pleased to say, on
this side at least, the chairmen we have appointed have agreed to this reduction in their
authority. There has not been one chairman who has come to me and said, privately or
publicly; “I oppose this; I want the same old autocratic authority to control as we
formerly had.” I think this is significant.”

Rep. Irvis noted the struggles between the Legislative and Executive branches of
government on the House floor on April 14, 1969. Relying on his skills as a legislative
and educator, he offered the following comments.

Mr. IRVIS: “The only business I bring before the House is a brief statement. It
relates to the brief statement which the gentleman from Lancaster just made. He quoted
from “Alice in Wonderland”. That happens to be one of my favorites also, as a former
teacher of English. It seems to me the only thing I can think of which is quite appropriate
from “Alice in Wonderland”, after hearing a Lancaster Republican ask a Republican
Governor to cease making a spectacle of himself, is to say what Alice said when she was
confronted by the rabbit darting down the hole, and checking a gold watch, she said
“curiouser and curiouser”. I think that is an apt description of what we have heard here
this afternoon.”

The artwork of several children with mental retardation was placed on display in
the Capitol. Rep. Irvis rose on the House floor on June 17, 1969 to commemorate these
artists.

Mr. IRVIS: “The students in this class are, as you know, handicapped through
retardation in some degree. Yet it is true that those whom society calls retarded or
deprived can sometimes have the divine spark in them, the jewel of creativity, the shine

13
of imagination, and it is equally true that each child in Pennsylvania, be he retarded,
normal, or brilliant, is entitled to an education to his fullest capacity.”

Landlords who take advantage of tenants earned the animosity of Rep. Irvis. Mr.
Irvis saw especially how tenants with low incomes lacked the resources to combat
unscrupulous landlords. Rep. Irvis fought against actions that would weaken his work on
June 4, 1969.

Mr. IRVIS: “I would like to point out that the rent withholding law, which was
one of the primary bills in the portfolio which I brought with me to this House of
Representatives, has turned out to be one of the most successful acts which we have put
on the books for the protection of the poor who must frequently rent buildings which are
dilapidated and not fit for human habitation. They are only now just beginning to learn
of the existence of the law, and any amendment which would tend to weaken the law…
tends to weaken the grasp and the responsibility of the law on the problems of the poor…

“If, by any amendment…the poor are forced to go into court practically every
time they wish to withhold the rent, they will soon realize that the law is ineffective and
ineffectual.”

Rep. Irvis was unafraid to state his feelings. On February 19, 1970, a budgetary
proposal was particularly irksome to Mr. Irvis. He left his fellow legislators know how
he felt.

Mr. IRVIS: “The taxpayers are not going to be fooled by this verbiage, and
sometimes garbage, that we toss around on this floor. At the siege of Acre, which
Richard Coeur de Leon, led in the first crusade, the army marched, led by a jester, and the
king followed him. Armies have been led by jesters before and since, but never
successfully, and never if the rest of the army decides to put on the bells and the cap of
the jester. I am quite sure that the Republican army differs in no way from the others
down their history.”

The 1970 legislative session contained some bitter legislative struggles. Rep.
Irvis was not always satisfied with the progression of actions. On February 28, 1970, he
let his feelings be known.

Mr. IRVIS: “We have not moved on these problems the way I would have wished
we could move. We have not moved in the way which we ought to in years past. It may
well be that we are locked in the bitter partisan battle of Republicans against Democrats
that like two goats meeting on a mountaintop, we may lock horns and each one die and
leave his bleached bones there to be inspected. It may well be that we cannot resolve
these problems as reasonable men and women ought to resolve them. It may well be that
we shall have to give way to demagoguery, to speechmaking, to posturing, to clowning,
to giving vapid and vacant promises to the people of this Commonwealth. I hope not,
because I am devoted to the House of Representatives. I respect it too much to hope that
we dissolve in that sort of mess.”

14
State employees gained the ability to engage in collective bargaining. Mr. Irvis
defended the rights of state employees to seek more favorable employment
circumstances. On July 20, 1970, Mr. Irvis spoke in favor of state employee collective
bargaining, including a right to strike under some circumstances, and against legislative
inactive that was denying this.

Mr. IRVIS: “This measure would have lifted the stigma of second-class
citizenship from those who work for us…

“Philosophically, I oppose any ban on strikes, except those affecting public health
and safety…because any such law is an extension of slavery. It is a system of forced
employment, and I am opposed to that…

“Since 1947, we have had a law on the books that prohibits strikes, which the
courts found impossible to enforce….

“By permitting strikes in limited cases, we know that collective bargaining will be
carried on in a responsible manner. We know that that this is true from our experience
with collective bargaining in other fields---whenever both labor and management come to
the table mutually respecting the rights and the powers of the other side, there has been
no need to resort to strike.”

Mr. Irvis effectively employed the use of analogies. In arguing on July 28, 1970
against a proposed amendment that a supporter has described as “non-controversial”, Mr.
Irvis found a different description of the supposedly innocuous proposal that he believed
would kill the proposal:

Mr. IRVIS: “It is something like having a surgeon operating on you and saying, I
am going to remove heart. I don’t have a replacement for it, but it is a very elementary
operation. If we happen to find an extra heart, we will put one back….It might be very
interesting to speculate as to whether or not a live bill will emerge from such a conflict.”

After decades of Executive power that advanced the will of the Governors and
their Administrations, sometimes abusively, the legislature at the urging of Rep. Irvis and
others began demanding the rightful oversight powers of the Legislative branch over
government operations. The legislature, previously a part-time body with little staff, was
becoming more professional and began undertaking its oversight functions more
seriously. Mr. Irvis noted this is his arguments in seeking to override a Governor’s veto
of legislation on July 29, 1970.

Mr. IRVIS: “It is time now that the House of Representatives exercise its
constitutional privilege to override the veto of the Chief Executive. Men cry “reform,
reform, reform”, but if true legislative reform is to be accomplished, it will be because the
General Assembly has decided to become a coequal body to the Executive, ready to listen
to the Executive’s advice, but not ready for his dictation.”

15
It is argued that a society can be judged on how they treat their least fortunate.
Rep. Irvis had a deep concern for how we treat prisoners. He realized that poorly treated
inmates become poor citizens, both after their release from prison and during their
incarcerations. Mr. Irvis gave a stirring address concerning prison reform on September
14, 1970.

Mr. IRVIS: “It is unfortunate that our governmental and social institutions do not
respond to the need for reform until the cry that reaches our ears is one of desperation and
violence. We preach the rational, the legal, and the democratic process of orderly reform,
but, in reality, only fear lights the cannon of change.

“In this most critical area of prison reform, we must act now. If we do not act, we
can expect only further disorders and riots in our institutions of correction, nationwide,
and if we do not act now, even more injurious to the body of society in the long run will
be the continuing of the steady, awful, eroding violence of day-to-day apathy and neglect
in a system outdated and overburdened, a system which sends back thousands of men
every year into the streets unequipped to live a normal life—bitter, hardened men, men
who will continue to inflect gaping wounds of society again and again.”

An effort to repeal an insurance premiums tax reached the House on March 11,
1970. Mr. Irvis rose to comment. He not only presented his opinion on the proposal, he
also provided his insights on the legislature itself. He relied upon analogies of legislators
to various kinds of bird to express some disappointment. He then became among the
very first political leaders to endorse the creation of a personal income tax; a tax that
Pennsylvania was among the last of states to adopt.

Mr. IRVIS: “There are thousands of species of birds; there are sparrows,
chickadees, hawks, eagles, doves, and there are chickens. Each has its own purpose in
the great plan and there are times when those of us who are elected to represent the
people of the United States of America reflect the fierce, aggressive pride of the great
wing beats of the eagle. There are times when those of us who represent the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would be better to stay out of the chicken yard for fear
we might be confused with the inhabitants thereof…

“The insurance industry spent millions of dollars on advertising. I guess the
newspapers and the television and radio stations would hope we would pass a bill like
this very week. They did it very cleverly. They stirred up the indignation. They
misinformed the public of certain issues and did not inform them on others. It would not
be the first time the insurance agents did that. They scared the pants off all of us and that
is why we are running. We are not being motivated by this noble business of being afraid
that the business will be driven from the Commonwealth; we are being motivated by the
ignoble drive—a perfectly understandable one—that unless we repeal this tax, we might
lose an election. Does that put it plainly enough?…

16
“If you want some noble phraseology: it is true—the people of the
Commonwealth own the Commonwealth; the legislature does not. Even though the
people may be misinformed, it is still their right to decide how they shall be governed,
what taxes they should pay…

“I think the difference between the Republican Caucus and the Democratic
Caucus—and there is not too much difference when you look at the birds in flight, but I
think that the difference is that we have been able to get ours back on the ground to
gather around and look. We have been able to gets back on the ground to see whether or
not the shadow which passed over us was a shadow of a hawk. We have been able to
slow the panic: our members are no longer running…

“We are prepared to offer a solution of how we return to the Governor’s budget
the money we are about to rip away from him…The only real way we are going to solve
the current problem and the oncoming fiscal problems of this Commonwealth is through
the passage of an equitable, personal income tax. I pledge you publicly, as I have said it
publicly before, I will be the first to sign it if the Republican leadership are willing to sign
with me. I am even going to sign it without them.”

On the first day of a new legislative session, held on January 5 1971, Speaker
Herbert Fineman introduced Mr. Irvis to the new legislature as ‘unofficially, the official
raconteur of historical tales bearing a moral message for this House.” Mr. Irvis provided
the legislators with the following tale that explained their mission as legislators.

Mr. IRVIS: “When I was on my way out of the office on the first floor, a young
boy asked me a question which I think goes to the basic issue. He asked in his own way
why there was a House of Representatives. It occurred to me that over 2,000 years ago, a
Roman soldier who had been standing in the dusty streets of Jerusalem…had been
watching and listening to the learned me, the teachers, the rabbis, discuss in great detail
what is the law. They had been discussing whether or not it was correct to eat an egg that
had been laid by a chicken on the Sabbath Day and they had been discussing whether or
not it was correct for people to enter the gates through which seep also entered.

“The Roman soldier had been listening to this all day long and he turned to a tall,
broad shouldered, old man who had been quiet most of the day…he was the teacher,
Hillel. He said to Hillel, “could you tell me what is the law, and could you tell me in the
length of time that it would take me to stand on one foot without getting tired?”

“The old man looked at his fellows and he looked at the Roman soldier and he
said, “Do not do unto others that which you would not have them do unto you. That is
the law; all else is explanation.”

“There are times when you will find that those of us who serve in the House of
Representatives argue such learned questions as whether or not sheep and men should
enter the gates of the city at the same time. When we get so involved, when we get so
enmired in those details, it would be wise for all of use to remember the real reason we

17
are here; the reason which Hillel said 2,000 years ago: We are here to make certain, as
certain that we can, that no one shall do unto any one else that which he would not have
that person do unto him. That is the law, and the rest is explanation.”

While debating a bill concerning the operations of the Public Welfare Department
on January 25, 1971, Leroy Irvis made the following plea on behalf of those who
benefited from the Department’s programs.

Mr. IRVIS: “We may as well face, in Pennsylvania, the necessity for reassessing
our entire attitude towards those human beings who are not fortunate enough to be able to
take care of themselves. We need to reassess our entire attitude towards the four year old
child who does not know he is getting welfare milk from an unwilling public. We need
to reassess our entire attitude toward the 70 year old who does not know that he has
outlived his usefulness and that we may begrudge him the crumbs we toss his way. ”

Rep. Irvis proposed requiring that legislators be provided information on how
much proposed legislation would cost the Commonwealth. This had not been previously
required. On February 12, 1971, Irvis argued for, and later won, the requirement that
bills’ fiscal information be given.

Mr. IRVIS: “Often called “fiscal notes”, these attachments will outline not only
the cost for the first year but also for several years thereafter of any bill or any
amendment that costs money. Too often in the past, we have considered bills without
knowing how much they will cost and where the money is to come from. The use of
“fiscal notes” will go a long way, we hope, toward restoring public confidence in
representative government.”

A mock offer of bipartisan cooperation from Republican legislators earned them a
chastisement from Mr. Irvis on July 12, 1971:

Mr. IRVIS: “I have grave doubts if ever the Republican Party was serious about
being bipartisan. Far be it for me to imply anything like that, but I might be forgiven a
bit of suspicion when I invite men into my home to discuss policy matters with me and,
when they take their coats off, I find that they are carrying two .45s, a sawed-off shotgun,
brass knuckles, and a Bible on which they are going to swear their truthfulness, which
contains no pages whatsoever.

“I am not saying that this is true of the Republican Party. I am merely saying that
I might be forgiven a bit of suspicion if that were to happen. I am certain that the
Minority Leader’s most generous offer will be accepted by this party in precisely the
mood in which he offered it.”

The House debated prison training programs on October 6, 1971. Mr. Irvis
offered his observations.

18
Mr. IRVIS: “The gentleman who founded Pennsylvania was a convict, William
Penn…We have to make up our minds whether we consider the men and women whom
we put behind bars as animals or human beings…

“If we assume that these people are men and women, then we have a moral
obligation to do those things which are within our power to bring about to see that they
are treated as human beings and less as animals than presently is happening….

“The prisoners who are the experts train those who are inexpert so that the
inexperts come out better prepared to prey on society with greater hostilities than when
they went in, and there is no prison expert who will deny that. They are trained; they do
not come out untrained. The question is, who does the training, and what kind of training
is given…

“Should we not now be concerned with training programs which have some hope
of preventing the return to crime? Is it not so that what we are trying to do here today is a
very simple thing, to ease the pain which is so very important for all human beings…

“Do not all human beings have to be given hope? …There is one thing we ripped
away from all prisoners under the present system, and that is hope.”

Debates over providing schools with racially integrated student bodies arose on
the House floor on May 23, 1972. Leroy Irvis rose to provide historical perspectives on
the issue.

Mr. IRVIS: “140 years ago there signs were up all over the Commonwealth
saying that the Irish were not wanted on certain jobs, housing could not be sod to them…

“By 1890 to 1900 there was a different whipping boy. The Italians had started to
move into this land of freedom...

“The Black people who have been here over 400 years and have been ignored all
that time because they were afraid to make strong motions for freedom after the Civil
War. It was then that suddenly the white people of the North and the South decided to
suppress the Black people.

“Before the Civil War, White people and Black people rode on trains together.
After the Civil War, the trains were segregated. Before the Civil War, White people and
Black people lived in the same neighborhoods. After the Civil War, neighborhoods
became increasingly segregated.

“There is an infection among of all us adults. That infection is racism. It eats
away at the Black as well as the White in this country. There is not a single one of us
seated on the floor of this House who has not been infected with this disease, and I do not
know a single acquaintance of mine, White or Black, who has not been infected with that
disease. If anything destroys this country internally, it will be that infection…

19
“It is beneath the intelligence level of this body to argue that the 1,300,000 pupils
who are daily bused in this Commonwealth right now are being harmed by climbing
aboard a bus and going to school and climbing aboard a bus and going home…What you
are voting on today is this question: Shall Black kids and White kids go to school
together? It is that simple. All the rest is rhetoric.”

The issue of school desegregation continued to be debated on June 13, 1972. This
time, Mr. Irvis added a personal historical perspective on the issue.

Mr. IRVIS: “When I was a young man about 14 years of age, I started out making
speeches about the terrible things which are happening in the South. Some of you may
know that I was born and raised in the North, that my people had been there since the
1600’s. I had never been in the South when I made those speeches, but I read a lot, and
in those days, Black people were being lynched at the rate of about two every week.

“I made hell-fire speeches to adults and to young people about the terrible
conditions in the South until a wise woman came to me one day and said “Son, you live
in Albany, New York.” I said, “Yes, mam.” She said, “Why do you not go out and do
something about Albany.”…

“The first real problem arose in the school situation when a Northern city was told
it must desegregate. That city was Chicago. Up until that time the courts had been
dealing with the South, and anything that the court said against segregation the North
cheered, because we like to hide behind legal terms.

“We like to talk about de facto segregation as opposed to de jure segregation, de
jure, by law, and de facto, in fact. I really do not care about the differentiation and
neither should you. It does not make any difference to me whether I am denied food de
jure or de facto. If I am denied food for a sufficiently long period, I will die. And it does
not make much difference whether I die de jure; I die de facto…

“We are discussing a matter of hypocrisy…You remember the story of the ancient
king who found sea encroaching upon his kingdom. Every year a few more feet of the
ocean were washed away, and he stood on the shores of the ocean and ordered it to stop.
That is what we are about to do today. We are about to stand on the shores on an ocean
and order it to cease washing the shores away. And when the ocean did not stop, he
made a broom of twigs and tried to sweep back the waves. A foolish king? A foolish
legislature? You judge for yourselves.”

Leroy Irvis delivered a stirring lesson on the costs of ignorance on the House floor
on August 17, 1972:

Mr. IRVIS: “There is no greater threat today to our form of line than ignorance,
whether it be ignorance on the floor, ignorance in the press, or ignorance among our
constituency. That is the battle we are fighting tonight. There are very few people in this

20
Commonwealth who would refuse, if they knew, to grant 15 cents a year for this bill
which we are about to vote on. But there are very few people who have been informed
what it will cost. There are a few people who knew it but have deliberately withheld that
information from the public.”

Democratic legislators were the minority party in the House in 1972. Leroy Irvis
was elected Minority Whip. During debates on January 23, 1973 over what the House
rules should be, Rep. Irvis rose to present his perspective.

Mr. IRVIS: “We are now caught in the same as the designers of the early
automobiles who sometimes had carved the figure of a horse’s head and put it on the
front of the car to sell it, because people were used to seeing a horse’s head, and other
parts, going before them. We are now, I am assuming, trying to eliminate not only the
horse’s head but the other part.”

When former President Lyndon Johnson passed away, Rep. Irvis stood on the
House floor on January 23, 1973 and read a tribute to him. Part of the remembrances he
provided included the following:

Mr. IRVIS: “Lyndon Johnson was a big man; with a big heart and big dreams. He
identified the goals of his Administration as a Great Society. Toward the achievement of
these goals, he sponsored and had enacted into law the most comprehensive measures to
attack this Nation’s social ills since the era of Franklin Roosevelt…

“These goals of the Great Society were a reaffirmation of this Nation’s concern
for the poor, the weak, the oppressed, and the human dignity of each of us. The tragedy
of Vietnam cast a shadow upon these accomplishments and goals, but cannot diminish
them. These accomplishments will stand as a lasting tribute to the memory and worth of
Lyndon Baines Johnson.”

During debates on July 25, 1973 on whether the Pittsburgh School Board would
be elected by voters, Mr. Irvis provided this historical reference:

Mr. IRVIS: “Those Americans who talk about majority rule do not know their
history. That is not the reason why the Colonies fought, and it is not the reason for the
establishment of this democracy.

“The philosophical base on which this democracy was established is a just and
reasonable concern for the rights of minorities…Even when we established this country,
when we declared that all men are created equal in 1776, and later when we established a
Constitution for this country, we did not believe in what we said. Some of the men who
signed that Constitution owned slaves and during the time that Constitution was
established out of a total population of this country of less than four million men and
women, over 697,000 were Black.

21
“How do I reach the conclusion that we did not believe what we said about all
men being created equal? Read Article I of the United States Constitution, wherein it
states that the population of the state was to be counted in order to apportion the House of
Representatives in Washington, Indians were not to be included in the count at all and all
Blacks were to be counted at three-fifths of a man.”

Democratic legislators were in the majority in 1975. Leroy Irvis was elected
Majority Leader. During March 18, 1975 debate concerning the Senate’s advice and
consent role towards the Governor’s appointment of a Consumer Advocate, Mr. Irvis
provided his perspective.

Mr. IRVIS: “I do not particularly like kings and I do not particularly like
Governors and I do not care whether they are Republican or Democrat…But I am not
going to sit here and hear somebody say on the floor of the House that a man, whether he
be Republican or Democrat, who runs 11 ½ million citizens of this Commonwealth
cannot represent the voice of the people, as opposed to a Senator who runs to districts of
perhaps 250,000…I will tell you what happens in the wheeling and dealing on advice and
consent, and it is not anything like the civic textbook that you read in junior high school.”

During June 11, 1975 debate on an amendment that would cut public assistance
benefits, Mr. Irvis rose to express his outrage against the proposal:

Mr. IRVIS: “I have a 16 year old daughter sitting on the floor of the House as a
page today and I have tried to raise her following my concepts of humanity. And what I
am going to say today I want her to hear because I have some hope of influencing her…

“We are the most contradictory of all God’s creatures. We crawl like the snake
when necessary and attack like the wolf against those who cannot fund off such an attack.
We deal with the concepts of angels and we live with the devils of our world. We are
capable of incredible acts of injustice to other human beings and equally incredible
sacrifices, therefore.

“So anything that happens on the floor of this House I want my daughter to
recognize as reflective of what she is going to find for the rest of her life wherever she
meets human beings. But I ask her to notice what sort of banter has been raised here
today by this amendment, by the bloodless words of this amendment…I want her to
know what the blood and flesh which lie behind those words. I want her to know that
this banner raised by this amendment says, in effect, join with me while I attack an 89
year old woman living on social security and welfare old age benefits in a high rise
apartment in Pittsburgh, stumbling half-blind through that apartment, going with food
two days a week. That is the banner which this amendment raises. It says, she is
incapable of defending herself, therefore let us attack her…That the way to balance this
budget is to strike out from it all the moneys which we are allocating to those people who
cannot produce for themselves…

22
I want my daughter to watch very carefully the vote on the floor today…Do we as
a creature, as a society, consider that we owe an obligation to take care of our brothers
and sisters, or do we destroy those who are least care to care for themselves?”

The rights of consumers were considered by the House on July 16, 1975. Rep.
Irvis provided the following thoughts:

Mr. IRVIS: “We are about to undertake here on the floor of the House of
Representatives a task that is long overdue—the passage of several measures that can be
packaged together under the title of “Consumer Protection.”…

“I believe that in this complicated age, the consumer needs protection against
unethical bill collectors; against interest changes that are too high and not clearly stated;
against such practices as “dragging the body” and “balloon payments” and such
practices…

“At the same time, we all recognize the fact that most of our businessmen are
honest, have integrity, and are ethical. Only a small percentage attempts to cheat their
customers in any way. In formulating this package of bills, we have attempted to follow
the advice of Benjamin Franklin, who once wrote to the British Parliament: “If you
gentlemen must be making laws, do not turn natural and useful actions into crimes by
your prohibitions.”

“By following the advice of Dr. Franklin, and by attempting to look at each part
of these measures from the viewpoint of the consumer, we believe that we have put
together a package of bills that deserves the support of every member here. These bills
protect our consumers while at the same time they do not unduly restrict or burden honest
businessmen.”

Judge Homer Brown was honored on the House floor on September 29, 1975.
Mr. Irvis included the following in his tribute to Judge Brown:

Mr. IRVIS: “When I was a very young man moving from Albany, New York, to
the city of Pittsburgh, promising that I would stay there just one year…the one man I met
who convinced me that I had met a very important man, a very gracious and a very bright
human being, was Judge Homer S. Brown, at that time being the only Black
representative from Western Pennsylvania. I had no idea that the time would come when,
having finished law school, I would be selected eventually to sit when he sat. I would
indeed be honored if I could believe that I have in one-tenth of a percent measured up to
the standards which he set for all of us in Pennsylvania.”

The House honored Benjamin Franklin on May 19, 1976. Mr. Irvis told the
House why he admired, and offered a resolution commending, Mr. Franklin. Mr. Irvis
mentioned the following about Benjamin Franklin.

23
Mr. IRVIS: “He was intent on building an enlightened society conscious of the
natural rights of every man and every woman, a society that would thrive on fairness,
reason, equality, and justice…Franklin’s dignity, his intelligence, and his ability to reason
toward practical and just solutions to difficult problems made him one of the most
respected Americans both at home and abroad…

“Benjamin Franklin is the only American to have signed the four basic documents
on which our Nation is founded—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the
treaty of alliance with France, and the Treating Ending the War with England. In other
words, he was a man who was respected by our friends as well as our enemies…

“He sought, as a peacemaker, peace at home and abroad. He sought a formula for
peace and freedom for all people. He did not live to see the final results of these efforts,
and this is perhaps because this is one experiment that has no peace—peace cannot be
switched off and on like an electrical current, but it does grow brighter with constant
effort.”

Rep. Irvis was reelected House Majority Leader on January 4, 1977. On that day,
Mr. Irvis offered the following observations:

Mr, IRVIS: “We are not the most efficient form of government. A democracy is
not the most efficient philosophy of government. A republic is not the most efficient
form of government. A dictatorship is far more effective, far more efficient, moves with
greater rapidity than any other form of government known to man, whether the dictator
be called dictator, emperor, king, or simply colonel. But a republic in a democratic
philosophy is the best form of government for man, for out of all of the chaos…this
interaction of ideas, ideals, philosophies, hopes, aspirations, fears, mistakes,
achievements, desires—there emerges, or I hope there emerges, the strongest, the best
form of government to protect the rule of reason and the rule of justice anywhere in this
world…

“You and I…have every right to be proud of the fact that right here in
Pennsylvania the seed of the Nation was sown. It was here in this Commonwealth that
men and women decided—because although the women did not vote, if you will reread
the history of this country, you will find that they spoke, that they wrote letters, and they
influenced the men who voted, our ancestors decided that we would experiment to see if
men and women, free of the restraints of monarchy, could govern themselves, and we
have done so.”

K. Leroy Irvis was elected Speaker of the House on May 23, 1977. He filled a
vacancy left by the resignation of the previous Speaker who had been convicted of
criminal charges. His assent to the Speakership during a time of political turmoil was
reflected in his first address as Speaker:

Mr. IRVIS: “You and I face troublesome times. This is not the way I had hoped
to come to this position. But no matter what happens to you or me as an individual, the

24
people continue to exist and to have needs and their government must continue to serve
them

“I have come to this office…to heal some of the wounds and mend some of the
breaks and aid just a little bit in moving forward to do the job the people who sent us here
expect of us. I have an enormous respect for the wisdom and the capabilities of the
people. I know eventually that the people will succeed and I know it as surely as I know
I live. They may be betrayed and they may be misled and they may be lied to and
cheated, but those who betray and mislead and lie and cheat disappear and the people
remain. It is our strength in this land that all of us…have a duty to perform in tending to
the needs of our brothers and sisters.

“It is sometimes amusing that we come upon great historical moments the way we
do…I said to my wife Cathy this morning “Do you realize, sweetheart, we are about to
make history?” And she looked up from the dresser drawer where she was rummaging
around and said “All I realize is that you’ve run out of blue socks.” You need a wife like
that. It’s like having my mother say, “Don’t let it go to your head.”…

“I pledge to you this: As long as I stand here, I will stand here to honor this
position and not to deface it. As long as I stand here, I will do my best to deal justly with
each one of you with each problem as it arises…

“I again thank you for the honor, but I suggest now that we get on with the
business of this day for there is important business for us to do before this session canc
lose this year and I intend that we shall be about that business.”

As Speaker, Leroy Irvis was a consistent advocate that the proper decorum be
maintained. On March 24, 1977, he provided his reasoning why he so insisted:

Mr. IRVIS: “The Chair does not intend to preside over chaos. There are school
children in the audience who may never again in their lifetimes view a legislative body.
This is not the only time that that this will happen. It will happen frequently. The
impression those children take from one visit may well be the impression they have as
adults of how a legislative body is conducted, how it behaves itself… The Chair does not
intent to let any member or group of members, by his, her, or their conduct on the floor of
this House, to further diminish the credibility of this House. “

1979 found Democrats as the minority party in the House. Leroy Irvis continued
to lead his caucus, though as Minority Leader. With a Republican Governor, Irvis and
House Democrats presented an alternative budget proposal to what the Governor offered.
In defending the Democratic budget plan, Rep. Irvis noted on the House floor on April
23, 1979 how some past legislative reforms on which he had worked were benefiting the
legislative process.

Mr. IRVIS: “The amount of basic financial data available to us as a result of our
Budget Reform Code of 1978 enables us finally to write our own budget with the same

25
information used by the Executive branch. Every number in our proposal was built up
from data on our legislative computer rather than derived by using the Governor’s request
as a starting point to cut from. We have matured beyond that approach, and the majority
has the same capabilities as we do. We should ignore the age-old pressure points used by
the Executive branch to have us rubberstamp their demands and face our constitutional
responsibilities independently of the Governor.”

On May 2, 1979, Rep. Irvis offered the following political advice based on his
experience as Speaker:

Mr. IRVIS: “In matter of fact no Speaker has any power to appoint a chairman
who is either so incompetent or unpopular that he could not sustain a majority vote within
his own caucus. From a practical point, although it looks as if the Speaker has almost
unlimited powers of selection, it does not work that way at all. When the time comes
when one of you young women or young men becomes Speaker of the House, I hope you
will remember what I have said to you. You are going to find out the same way as the
President of the United States has found out—it is one thing being elected, it is another
thing to govern.”

Later that day Rep. Irvis spoke in favor of creating a legislative committee on
issues affecting the elderly. Leroy Irvis understood there were separate concerns facing
the aging that policy makers needed to recognize as he gave his arguments in favor of
establishing this committee:

Mr. IRVIS: “As many of you know, I was intimately involved in the background
study for the creation of the new Department of the Aging. As some of you may not
know, the most rapidly growing group in our Commonwealth right now and certainly in
Allegheny County are those people who are 60 years of age and older. It seems to me
most benefiting, now that we have a separate Department of the Aging, that we create a
separate committee on the aging to handle the numerous bills and problems which are
certain to evolve as we progress in the structuring of this new department and monitoring
its functions.”

Abortion was and remains a divisive political issue. On September 24, 1980,
Rep. Irvis explained his position on abortion to the House floor:

Mr. IRVIS: “My vote today is based on this simple premise: If poor women are
going to get pregnant—and they will be—if poor women are determined to have an
abortion, then at least I want that abortion under conditions which give those women the
best opportunity to survive…They will still abort, but they will do it in the back alleys; it
will be done by the amateurs; it will be done…frequently at the life of the bearer of the
fetus...Regardless of what Leroy Irvis says or believes, they are going to exist, and as
long as they are going to exist, I want to protect that would-be mother as best I can.”

Rep. Irvis paid tribute to Speaker Matthew Ryan on November 19, 1980 with
remarks that included the following:

26
Mr. IRVIS: “You and I, I think exemplify the very best in the political
environment of this country, not necessarily in our performance, but in our beliefs that
the people of this country and this Commonwealth are best served by honest
disagreement in the political process. And the greatness of this country has been
measured many times over, not by the individual performance of politicians, but by the
intensity of their beliefs and the rightness of things for the people whom they are sworn
to serve.”

In 1981, Democratic legislators remained the minority political party in the
Pennsylvania House and Leroy Irvis was elected Minority Leader. Leader Irvis had the
following advice on the first day of the new legislature on January 6, 1981:

Mr. IRVIS: “The greatness of our people in this land is measured by the degree to
which they rise to the test of self-governance, and they have chosen you as their
representatives of that self-governance. The road will be rocky for you; there will be
little thanks and less gratitude and much less understanding of your problems, but you
have been chosen and you have accepted the choice, and it is your responsibility and
mine to lead our people closer to the goal of freedom than we are now. Let there be a
time when all men are free throughout the world, but that time is not yet. Your duty and
mine is to bring it closer.”

Following the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, Rep. Irvis
provided his thoughts on the shooting and of gun violence on the House floor on March
31, 1981:

Mr. IRVIS: “I think this society has to finally deal with the problem it has
neglected since the death of Abraham Lincoln, even since the death of McKinley, ever
since the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, ever since the attacks on President Ford. I
think we must finally address ourselves to the question of whether or not we so value the
right to bear arms that we will give it to those maniacs, those madmen, those terrorists,
those burglars, those robbers, those thieves who victimize not only the President of the
United States, who symbolizes all of us, but every single one of us who wish to live in
peace with his and her neighbors.”

The legislature debated public assistance on April 7, 1981. Rep. Irvis related
some observations from his personal life in defending people in need:

Mr. IRVIS: ‘I came from a very, very poor family. I saw my father working at
$12 a week, for seven days a week, and my mother joining him in order to feed us. I
know what it means to be truly needy, and I know what pride there is in those of us who
are Americans who insist on taking care of ourselves. I get very irritated when I hear
anyone, whether it is on this side of the other side, whether it is in this Chamber or out,
who talks about the people on welfare as if they are unwilling to work.

27
“I want to submit this to the record…In a survey that was taken by the Los
Angeles Times, the first of its kind in this country, it was found that an overwhelming 75
percent of the people who were unemployed in this country said they would take menial
jobs. 75% of them said that. They also said that they would work on any job which paid
them the minimum wage, which is all we can ask of them. This is contrary to what the
American public believes. The perception of the American people is that unemployed
people do not want to work, that people on welfare do not want to work, they want to stay
on welfare. I tell you that is not so. And that is the reason I get upset when I see people
opposing a training program for people who are on welfare and who ought to be at
work.”

Debate on job programs continued into the next day. At one point during debates,
Rep. Irvis rose to comment on the tone of the discussions:

Mr. IRVIS: “I want to congratulate the gentleman who last spoke for being
against slave labor. At least I have got him to 1865. Now if I can get him the rest of the
way into the 20th century, I may succeed in my vote on the floor.”

The House debated residency requirements for school teachers on June 16, 1981.
Rep. Irvis related his personal experiences as a school teacher in giving the House
members his perspective on the issue.

Mr. IRVIS: “I started my career as a teacher, and I taught in the Baltimore,
Maryland school system, and I lived in Baltimore, Maryland at a time when living in
Baltimore was not the most pleasant place. It never occurred to me that I should not live
where my students were. It has not occurred to me since I have served in this House of
Representatives that I ought to live in an area other than the area where I represent. I am
assuming it had not occurred to any of you either because it would be against the
Constitution of this state to do so. There was a very good reason why that was written
into the Constitution, and the reason is that the Founding Fathers believed, as I believe,
that if you are going to represent the people, you ought to live close enough to them to
know about them.

“I think a teacher is a particular peculiar individual who is not simply a robot to
be turned off and on when he or she walks into a classroom. I think ideally teachers
ought to live around the corner from their students…I therefore see nothing wrong with
saying to a teacher, if you are going to teach in the school of Baltimore or the schools of
New York or the schools of Philadelphia or the schools of Allentown or the schools of
Pittsburgh or any other place, you ought to live there. I am not talking about the
economic impact…I am talking about the psychological impact of the teacher who walks
into the classroom at 8 o’clock in the morning and walks out and says “Thank God I am
getting rid of them; I do not have to bother with them”, gets in their car and drives out
into the suburbs, and I am thinking of the psychological impact of the child who knows
that is what the teacher does and that is what the teacher is thinking…Maybe one of the
problems that we have in the lack of respect for teachers in the classroom is the fact that
the child does not believe the teacher is his friend and is a neighbor and is concerned.”

28
A welfare proposal was presented to the House on March 24, 1982. Although it
was certain the Republican legislative majority had the votes to pass it, the proposal was
one that Rep. Irvis and others felt did not sufficiently support necessary programs. Rep.
Irvis provided the House with his thoughts on that bill and the process that developed it:

Mr. IRVIS: “I do not know any of you who if you were faced with a stranger who
was hungry would not feed him; and I do not know any of you who if faced with a
hungry child would not feed that child; and I do not know any of you who if you were
asked by a neighbor for help wound not give it. But I tell you that although you are not
individually mean spirited, this is a mean-spirited bill. This is the sort of bill that a
heartless bureaucracy draws up; not drafted by a single man or woman but drafted by
committees, those anomalous entities without heart, without face, without soul, interested
not in people but in statistics. If we could before you in the hall of House those people,
White and Black, young and old, employed now and unemployed, who will be affected
adversely by this bill, you would not turn your backs on them. But this bill does…

“We isolate ourselves in marble halls, where the people whom we are making
decisions for are excluded, except in the balcony, and we deal with statistics, not human
beings…It is easy for any political party bidding for power to attach itself to some
acceptable, simplistic idea…that will get that party reelected….

“I am not angry. I love the House of Representatives. The day comes when I
leave it, I will leave it with regret. The best friends I have ever had are on this floor,
some now and some have passed, and I have never known any whom I have disliked—
many I have disagreed with—but not any. But I say to you that this thing which you are
driven to do now for political purposes…but because the front office has said we have
got to have it…

“I hope to God I am never driven to vote against the poor and the helpless, those
who cannot defend themselves or feed themselves, as this bill would attack them. I do
not ask you to defeat it, because I know you cannot, but I am asking you in your secret
heart, during the next month, to consider if you have acted nobly and well. If you believe
you have, congratulations. I do not think many of you will congratulate yourselves.”

Rep. Irvis continued his criticism of what was the legislative process when he
argued against a budget proposal on the House floor on May 4, 1982:

Mr. IRVIS: “A democracy is a clumsy and incompetent form of government, but
it is the best form of government that man has evolved in 25,000 years. There are smart
ways to do things and there are right ways to do things, and this is the wrong way. I do
not care whether Republicans do it or Democrats do it; it is wrong to produce on the floor
of this House a 143 page budget bill with approximately $10 billion in it to be spent
without either the Senate or the House having had an opportunity to debate or amend that
bill. I believe this is the first time that that situation has obtained…There has never been

29
a situation where the general appropriations bill has not been debated with a chance of
amendment by either the Senate or the House of Representatives…

“I saw this bill in print for the first time at approximately 1 o’clock this afternoon,
and in five hours’ time there is no way for me to understand everything that is in this bill,
and yet I am going to be asked to vote for it. I cannot do that, and I cannot see how any
other responsible member of this House can do it…

“I know that our constituents are not concerned with the machinery of the House
of Representatives, with the methodology of the House of Representatives, and perhaps
my member was right when he said it is a smart way to do it, meaning clever, but clever
is not always right…It is wrong, patently wrong, to say to these members, you will vote
for ten billion dollars worth of expenditures: for what, you will not be told, and what
impact, you do not know.”

Democratic legislators emerged as the majority party in 1983. Leroy Irvis was
returned to the Speakership. After his election as Speaker on January 4, 1983, Speaker
Irvis welcomed the new legislature in part with the following:

Mr. IRVIS: “I cannot help but think as we gather here this January about that
great, gaunt man with the big ears and the lovely, homely face, who stood not far from
this spot in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 119 years ago. It was on an afternoon very much
like this. The man who was the main speaker was a man named Everett, and he was a
famous orator…He was called upon to tame the major address, and he spoke for two
hours, brilliantly, memorized the entire speech, and it has been entirely forgotten. Mr.
Lincoln, speaking into a moderately high wind, whose voice did not carry too well, spoke
for two minutes, and the words have been burned into the soul of this country. He said in
part that this was a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all
men are created equal. And he stood on a great battlefield of that Civil War, and he did
not talk about blue uniforms or gray uniforms, and he did not talk about White and Black,
and he did not talk about North and South, and he did not talk about good and evil. He
said something which all of us ought to remember all of our lives. He said that he was on
the battlefield of a great war which was testing whether or not that nation or any nation so
conceived and so dedicated could long endure.

“I submit to you that those are not just historical words. I submit that that is why
you and I have been sworn in here today 119 years later, that this nation is still being
tested to see whether or not it shall long endure, that we are still on the battlefield of that
war, not fighting with armed might but fighting for a philosophy which has not yet swept
this world.

“We are the only nation in the history of mankind, the only one, which
deliberately set upon a course of inviting everyone who wished to come, no matter what
color, what race, what place of origin, what philosophical belief, what religion, to come
here to live in peace with his or her neighbor and to live in freedom.

30
“Men and women have not always been free, and men and women are not free in
many places in this world today. Those things which you and I take so much for granted
that we do not even bother to think about them are beneficences which are not granted to
millions and millions and millions of people around this Earth.

“In this Commonwealth of ours we have a microcosm of this country. We come
from all corners of the Earth. We are all sizes and colors and all races and creeds and all
different philosophies, but we come together for one special purpose, that we and our
children shall be forevermore free. But that freedom is never guaranteed to any
generation until it earns it, and the place for it to earn it is here, for unique among the
animals of this Earth, mankind has created a parliament, a place where each one of us can
speak or be so represented and be spoken for. No other group does that. Other groups
have kings of leaders of the pack or chief wolf or lion in charge of the pride, but no other
group permits each member of the group to think, speak, and to ac tin freedom. That is
why you and I are here, to push forward that frontier of freedom…

“We are here to further guarantee that the people of this Commonwealth shall
remain free, and that this Nation under God shall long endure, and that government by
the people and of the people shall not perish from the Earth.”

There was a bloody terrorist attack on October 23, 1983 that killed 241 Marines,
sailors, and soldiers. The next day Speaker Irvis opened the House session with a speech
that included the following:

Mr. IRVIS: “We fight over our individual differences, philosophies,
commitments, but we sometimes forget that we have a common cord which binds us
together, that we are a people who believe fiercely in our own independent abilities to
rule ourselves, and we sometimes forget that we are so unique in the world that when we
send our young men abroad to help other people be free, we do not anticipate the
ferocious, unprovoked, and outrageous attack which took place in Beirut yesterday.

“The Speaker was particularly upset, because 41 years ago, when the Speaker was
a young man, he volunteered to join the Marines and was told that he could not be
accepted because of color. Yesterday, Marines of one color, red blood in their veins,
spilled it on the sands of Beirut. It was a stroke, not against just Marines, but against
freedom of thought, freedom to assemble, freedom to speak, and freedom to be.”

Speaker Irvis was surprised on the House floor on November 29, 1983 with his
portrait. Speaker Irvis unveiled the portrait with the following words>

Mr. IRVIS: “The chair again repeats that this is all done without the approval of
the Chair, but I am very grateful for the painting. It is beautifully done, but if my mother
were here, she would tell you there is something wrong with it. The mouth is closed, and
my mouth is seldom closed.”

31
Leroy Irvis was reelected Speaker in 1985. After being sworn in again as Speaker
on January 1, 1985, he included the following in his address to the new legislature:

Mr. IRVIS: “I never dreamed when I was being raised in Albany, New York that I
would ever be a Pennsylvanian, though I am proud and distinctly pleased with that. I
never dreamed when I read about Benjamin Franklin and the role he played in the
construction of these United States that I would one day place my hand on his Bible
which he produced for this General Assembly. But this huge Bible which rests here
under my left hand was the original Bible that Benjamin Franklin brought to the General
Assembly at the end of the 18th century…

“Abraham Lincoln was asked the question, what is government? And typical of
Abraham Lincoln, who never wasted a lot of words in long speeches and long letters,
Lincoln said, after giving it a few minutes thought: “The legitimate object of government
is to do for a community of people that which must be done but which they themselves
cannot do at all or cannot so well do for themselves in their separate and individual
capacities.” And then he added a caveat, which all of us ought to remember, and which
was the most important part of the whole statement. He said, “but in all, where the
people individually can do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.”

“That is the fulcrum of the argument which we will have over and over again on
this floor, what Mr. Lincoln said 130 years ago, There will be violent disagreements of
principle, but the chief disagreement on this floor will always be, where and when should
government interfere? There will be those who will argue that government ought to stay
as much distant from the people as it can, and there will be those who will just as
vehemently argue that it needs to get closer to the people. But on each side of the
argument the final decision always has to be made: Can the people do this better for
themselves than we can do it for them? If the answer is “yes’, then I stand with Abraham
Lincoln and say government ought not to interfere. If the answer is “no:, I stand with
Abraham Lincoln and say, at that point, we must step in. Where that point will be will
depend upon your own background, your own education, your own upbringing, and your
own view of the individual prowess of individual people. But we are here gathered in
this Assembly, you and I, for precisely for that debate. If that debate never occurred, as
Mr. Lincoln foresaw it, there would be no need for this General Assembly. If everyone
could agree on where government should interfere and where it should not, there would
be no need for a General Assembly. What Mr. Lincoln foresaw was the dire need always
of dispute, debate, and then final compromise, for you will find as new members—the
old ones already know this—that compromise is an art not easily achieved but without
which you cannot be a successful legislator…

“You and I do not vote for the present; you and I do not vote for the past. You
and I must always govern for the future, for it is only in the future that the people of our
Commonwealth truly live. It is only in tomorrow that the promises of today can be
realized. To the degree that you and I recognize, over the months that we will be
together, that our government must interfere only when and only if it is determined on

32
this floor that the individuals in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania cannot themselves
do it better than we can, only then will you and I govern truly, as indeed we must.”

Speakers seldom give speeches on the House floor. Only serving as the arbitrator
of debate and arranger of votes kept Leroy Irvis from entering debates. Yet, upon his
reelection as Speaker on January 6, 1987, Leroy Irvis looked at his family and wondered
about our future:

Mr. IRVIS: “I look at the young lady to my right, Lesley. She is 15 years old
now. When she was five and six, she used to sit on my lap down at the Majority Leader’s
desk. She is now in high school. I wondered when I looked at her today what her world
is going to look like in the 21st century, for she will live in that 21st century, as will our
other children.

“You and I, unfortunately, are burdened by the past. Those in my generation
remember Stalin, Hitler, F.D.R., Hoover. In her generation they will simply be names;
most of them will quickly forgotten.

“It is your obligation and mine, even though our ears be tuned to the songs of the
past and even though we witness the mausoleums of fate crumble into dust under the
impact of the future, we must learn to being to sing the songs of freedom and peace and
to begin to build the tabernacles of faith and courage which the 21st century will demand
of all of your people…

“My sister and I were raised in a family where we were forbidden by our mother
and father to discuss color of human beings. My father many times has said to his
friends, it you cannot describe the person by his physique or his occupation or his
philosophy, then I do not want to hear about his color. He said all human beings are
colored one way or another. My sister, Marian, and I learned that lesson, thank God, and
thank my father and mother, and she I have insisted all our lifetimes that we be judged on
the basis of our own competence and we have insisted that we judge all other human
beings on the same basis.

“It is the only safe way to build this country. This is a marvelous country;
nothing like it has ever been erected…Yet you and I in this part of the 20th century, now
just a few years from the 21st, have the privilege and the obligation of forming this
country in a better image than the past. If you and I fail, this whole Commonwealth fails,
and if this Commonwealth fails, then the whole Nation may fail. And, God forbid, if this
Nation fails, where else in the world of mankind is there a nation to carry such a banner
as ours?...

“Even though we may differ as to the vehicle to take us, all of us, men and
women alike, Republicans and Democrats, agree that the goals must be a Commonwealth
where people can live in peace with their neighbors, can work at their level of training,
can live where they wish, and without crime striking fear into their hearts. That is your
job and mine. I hope to God we will live up to His expectations.”

33
November 30, 1988 was Leroy Irvis’s last day as a legislator and as Speaker. He
concluded that day by noting:

Mr. IRVIS: “I have rejoiced in the position that you have elected me to, now for
more times than anyone in the history of the Commonwealth, and I have come to love the
members of this House for their honesty, their forthrightness, their commitment to the
people of this Commonwealth. But there is one duty I wished I had never had placed
upon my shoulders, and that is the duty of the Speaker to be at the funerals of those who
have left.”

Speaker Irvis paid tribute to the six House members who died during that session.
What that, Speaker Irvis retired to his home in Pittsburgh.

34