An eight-week experiment in bipartisan legislating slammed shut on Tuesday when Mark Rozzi (D – Berks) resigned his position as Pennsylvania’s Speaker of the House. Democrats acted quickly to elect Rep. Joanna McClinton of Philadelphia as the new speaker.
McClinton becomes the first woman to lead the lower legislative chamber.
News of Rozzi’s resignation was first reported by Stephen Caruso of SpotlightPA.
In that story, Rozzi suggested that his whole speakership had been a trick he played on the Republican caucus.
“Rozzi said he went into the deal [that made him speaker] aware that Republicans were trying to use him, and he decided that they ‘were gonna pay for it.’” the story said.
The remarks are a dramatic about-face from Rozzi’s language when elected to the speakership.
“The commonwealth that is home to Independence Hall will now be home to this commonwealth’s first independent speaker of the House,” Rozzi said at the time. “I pledge my allegiance and my loyalty to no interest in this building, to no interest in our politics. I pledge my loyalty to the people of the commonwealth.”
When Rozzi was elected speaker on Jan. 3, Republicans had a slight majority, but only because three Democratic-leaning seats were vacant. Once special elections were completed, it was almost certain Democrats would have a majority.
When a group of sixteen Republicans voted for Rozzi along with Democrats, it was emblematic of the word compromise — all parties gained something, but also gave something up.
“[A]ll who voted for the speaker got something they wanted,” the Washington Post reported. The 16 Republicans got a moderate Democrat-cum-independent installed as speaker even though they won fewer seats in November, while Democrats avoided allowing the temporary GOP majority to put constitutional amendments they opposed (including stricter voter ID) on the statewide ballot.”
Also as part of that deal, Rozzi was supposed to drop his Democratic party affiliation, something Republicans say he reneged on.
Rozzi’s tenure as speaker was focused on the single issue of passing legislation that would expand the statute of limitations window to allow victims of sexual assault to file civil lawsuits against their alleged abusers — an issue close to Rozzi because he was abused by a member of the Catholic clergy when he was young.
Republican Seth Grove (York County) said Rozzi’s notion that Republicans approached him as part of a trap or some kind of untoward gambit was flat out false.
“There was an accord set that he sought,” Grove said. “He wanted to be speaker to get his issues done. We were looking at finding someone to moderate the House, it having such a close margin. So, he agreed that he would re-register as an independent, not caucus with any entity, be an independent, work on the calendar with us, and in return, we would run the statute limitations constitutional amendment [legislation] uh, free and clear,” of any other legislative issues.
“I just find his comments very dramatic and, again, dishonest,” Grove said. “It’s not how it happened.”
Other House Republicans were just as critical, if not slightly more circumspect in their language.
“Right now, the House is in dire need of a reset, and I remain committed to working with anyone who is willing to work with us to find solutions,” House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (Lancaster County) said via Twitter. “However, the only way we will be able to move forward is by lowering the temperatures that have risen due to an unforeseen lack of integrity that has set back our ability to work across the aisle.”
The Republican-controlled senate has passed legislation that expands the statute of limitations for sexual assault survivors, but also contains language about mandating voter ID.
Grove says Rozzi now has scrapped his own legislation.
“I don’t think there’s movement going forward to get this done unless they have an open and honest dialogue,” Grove told Broad + Liberty. “And in his speech, he literally said, we’re not going to quote — risk disenfranchisement of Pennsylvanians for statute of limitations. So, in earnest, he just killed his own bill.”
While the events were a massive development in Harrisburg’s political power structure, it was not completely unforeseen.
“Democrats could try again to install McClinton after they fill the three vacancies in Democratic districts next month,” the Washington Post also reported in early January. But for now, the Pennsylvania House is effectively a coalition government, with an independent speaker and what will likely soon be 101 members of each party.”
“I am so incredibly grateful today. I am in complete awe. I am truly humbled. First and foremost, I give honor to God. God is the head of my life, the source of my strength.”
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at email@example.com, or use his encrypted email at firstname.lastname@example.org. @shepherdreports