This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.
Democrat Joanna McClinton was elected the first female speaker of the Pennsylvania House on Tuesday after Mark Rozzi stepped down after two tumultuous months presiding over the lower chamber.
McClinton was supported by all 102 Democrats in the chamber and no Republicans.
“I’m grateful for all who fought before me … so that this day was possible,” McClinton said after taking the oath of office. “It is only on their shoulders that I stand here today.”
McClinton is the first woman and second Black person to be speaker of the Pennsylvania House, after K. Leroy Irvis.
Rozzi announced he was stepping down at the beginning of the state House’s Tuesday session.
His brief time as speaker was defined by partisan fights and gridlock over the rules that govern the lower chamber. Rozzi told Spotlight PA he hopes his legacy will be a rules package that would give rank-and-file lawmakers from both major parties more say in the chamber’s agenda.
“The rules that I’m going to institute [are] going to allow 102 members from whatever party they are in to move legislation through this House,” the Berks County lawmaker told Spotlight PA Tuesday morning.
“Leaders need to be equal amongst everybody,” he added.
Rozzi said he was resigning because he had accomplished what he wanted to do, and to make way for McClinton.
“There’s going to have to be compromises on all legislation because of how tight the numbers are,” Rozzi told Spotlight PA, referring to Democrats’ one-vote majority. “So I think that [McClinton is] the right person to lead this House right now. And I couldn’t be more proud of the woman who I’m going to vote for for speaker of the House of Representatives.”
Rozzi announced his resignation four days after he oversaw the state House’s passage of two measures that would allow childhood victims of sexual abuse to sue their perpetrator and the institutions that shielded them for damages. The issue has been a defining one for Rozzi, who was abused by a Catholic priest as a teen.
Rozzi’s surprise rise to speaker was engineered by state House Republicans, who approached him on swearing-in day in January and offered him their backing in exchange for becoming an independent.
He was elected speaker in a 115-85 vote with the support of all Democratic lawmakers and 16 Republicans, including the party’s entire leadership team.
If Rozzi had dropped his registration, neither Democrats nor Republicans would have held the majority.
But though he pledged to govern as an independent in his acceptance speech, Rozzi did not leave the Democratic party.
Within a week of Rozzi’s election, his closest Republican ally, state Rep. Jim Gregory (R., Blair), called for his resignation from the speakership. At the same time, Rozzi regularly met with state House Democratic leaders.
Rozzi told Spotlight PA he went into the deal aware that Republicans were trying to use him, and he decided that they “were gonna pay for it.”
“There’s a lot of things wrong with Harrisburg. And the way I was elected speaker, that’s a prime description of what is wrong with Harrisburg because the Republicans had a majority at that time,” Rozzi said. “But they tried to manipulate, hoodwink, snooker the members of this General Assembly by electing me, thinking that I would do their bidding for them. That I would turn against my party.”
Rozzi’s time as speaker was mostly marked by a partisan stalemate over the rules that govern the chamber and dictate who controls the legislative agenda.
State House lawmakers usually adopt rules on the first day of a new legislative session. Democrats did not publicly offer a proposal in January, but Republicans did and urged a vote on them.
Rozzi instead recessed the chamber, formed a bipartisan work group, and embarked on a statewide listening tour to solicit input from citizens and activists.
Overwhelmingly, Rozzi was told the chamber should enact rules that give all lawmakers, rather than leaders and committee chairs, more say in policymaking.
As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, Rozzi had not publicly released his rules proposal, though his office summarized some of the proposed changes in a news release last week.
Among them: making it easier to force votes on legislation in committees or on the floor, giving the minority party more representation on committees, and expanding sexual harassment and discrimination protections. (The latter have increased relevance after a lobbyist told Rozzi’s work group earlier this month that an unnamed, sitting lawmaker harassed her. Under previous rules, she was unable to file a complaint.)
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media.
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