When British Prime Minister Liz Truss’s administration rose and fell in fifty days in 2022, the whole world laughed at the shambolic state of the House of Commons. Here in Pennsylvania in 2023, Speaker Mark Rozzi exceeded Truss’s tenure by just five days in a Harrisburg farce too strange to be believed.
The last-minute deal that brought Rozzi to the Speaker’s chair appeared at first blush to be the answer to many of the problems that plagued Pennsylvania’s capital — and American politics in general, especially as Republicans in Washington were flailing to elect a speaker there. With a two-vote Republican majority set to turn into a one-vote Democratic majority, it was clear on January 3 that no purely one-party caucus could ever hope to control the House for long. And it was more than just the shifting math: the toxic politics of the past few years, the increasing political polarization, the utter lack of trust between the parties — it all combined to make a House where compromise and cooperation were nearly impossible.
So along came Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat with a reputation for bipartisanship and friends on both sides of the aisle. He agreed to be nominated by Republicans and was elected with the support of Democrats, pledging to bring back cooperation and trust while sitting as an independent, no longer a member of either party. New rules would be passed to allow members of either party to bring legislation forward, no longer shutting out the minority completely.
A victory for moderation, trust, and decency — and it all fell apart immediately.
Rozzi struck the first blow himself, reneging on the deal to sit as an independent and remaining a member of the Democratic Party. The rules package never got written. And after passing one piece of legislation — the constitutional amendment to allow civil suits against child molesters beyond the statute of limitations — he locked the doors of the House, bringing the legislature to a halt.
Instead of legislating, Rozzi embarked on a “listening tour” around the state, the only tangible result of which was to expose one of his own fellow Democrats as a sexual predator. That member remains in good standing in the House and has not resigned or even been publicly named, though his identity is widely known.
Bipartisanship? Transparency? Trust? So much for all that. Rozzi presided for two months over a House that accomplished one thing and then handed power back to a party whose most notable efforts there this year have been to protect a sexual predator among their number.
In the manner of his leaving the Speakership, Rozzi burned whatever trust he had earned and then some.
For someone who came into office pledging his loyalty “to the people of the commonwealth,” he sounded just like a loyal partisan on the way out.
Rozzi told Stephen Caruso of SpotlightPA Tuesday that Republicans “tried to manipulate, hoodwink, snooker the members of this General Assembly by electing me.” Even if this is true, a trustworthy person would have rejected what he believed to be a corrupt deal. Instead, Rozzi went along with it, in his own telling, and vowed that Republicans “were gonna pay for it.”
The Berks Democrat said he was resigning the Speakership because he had accomplished what he wanted to do, but it is unclear why he couldn’t have accomplished that with McClinton holding the gavel from the beginning.
Rozzi’s own version of events paints him as a purveyor of dirty tricks and extreme partisanship. But this is, frankly, unbelievable. Rozzi’s Walter Mitty fantasy may have him outsmarting everyone to get his signature legislation passed, but the story doesn’t ring true.
A more realistic version: he thought he made a good deal based on some sort of actual principle, after which his party convinced him to break his word. We’ll have to wait to find out the exact cause of Rozzi’s heel turn, but we know the effect already: further destruction of the already diminished virtues of trust and honesty in Harrisburg.
We are well aware that McClinton will steer the House sharply to the left, and we anticipate many disagreements. With that understood, however, we wish her well and congratulate her on her extraordinary achievement. She has a lot of work ahead of her to repair the damage of the last two months.
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