(The Center Square) — Within a week of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives choosing a surprise speaker to lead, the sense of support and unity is already fading.
The House Republican who nominated Speaker Mark Rozzi, D-Temple, to serve in a closely divided House has now called on him to “immediately resign.” Rozzi, from Temple, was a Democrat when nominated and in his acceptance speech vowed to be independent of Democrats and Republicans, including not caucusing with either party.
“It is with difficult emotions that I find myself in position to write this letter to you today,” wrote Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg, in a Monday letter to Rozzi.
Calling the nomination “the absolute professional highlight of our time here as State Representatives,” Gregory wrote that he “placed great belief and faith that you would live up to the words I spoke in my nominations speech for you. I placed greater faith and belief that you would live up to the words you delivered in your acceptance speech.”
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Gregory’s nomination speech for Rozzi, as The Center Square previously reported, called Rozzi an “independent voice” who would “remain a fair arbiter for the business of this chamber.”
In his acceptance speech, Rozzi said, “I pledge to caucus with neither the Republicans nor the Democrats. My staff will be made up of people from both parties.”
However, friction has developed. Rozzi, despite his pledge, might not become independent.
“It was with great sadness for me as your friend that you would admit to me Saturday that you are only thinking about switching,” Gregory wrote. “Those words directly contradicted your previous three affirmative answers to me of ‘yes’ that you were going to switch to independent. You made a commitment to uphold your promise to me, to members of this body, and to the people of Pennsylvania.”
Without the support of Gregory and Republican House leadership, Rozzi would not have the votes to become speaker.
“As a result of your broken promises, I must sadly and respectfully ask for you to immediately resign the office of Speaker,” Gregory wrote.
Rozzi isn’t legally obligated to resign, but his tenure may be short anyway. Democrats and Republicans agreed on Feb. 7 as a special election date to fill three seats, all of which the Democrats are favored to win. Republicans have 101 seats, and Democrats could reach 102 if Rozzi remains a Democrat; three wins by Democrats in the special elections and it’s 101–101–1 if Rozzi goes independent.
Before Rozzi became Pennsylvania House speaker, Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, was expected to win the role.
Gregory declined comment through a staff member when contacted.
When Rozzi became speaker, lawmakers rode a bipartisan wave of good feeling. That seems to have come to an abrupt end.
“The bonds of trust between friends — as close as you and I have been — are now broken,” Gregory wrote.
Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.