by Anthony Hennen
After delays, motions to adjourn, and much uncertainty, the narrowly divided Pennsylvania House of Representatives chose Democrat Mark Rozzi of Berks County as Speaker of the House.
Rozzi won 115 votes against Republican Carl Metzger of Somerset County, who received 85 votes.
In his acceptance speech, Rozzi dropped another bombshell: He would become an independent, not caucusing with Democrats or Republicans as speaker.
“The commonwealth that is home to Independence Hall will now be home to this commonwealth’s first independent speaker of the house,” Rozzi said. “I pledge to caucus with neither the Republicans nor the Democrats. My staff will be made up of people from both parties. 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.”
The election almost didn’t happen. After a session day in which the House was at ease for the majority, a late-afternoon motion to adjourn failed in a 100-100 tie.
“The Constitution requires us to be here today for the purpose of organizing the House,” said Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster. “I would simply request that we stay here and finish the job.”
Rozzi was nominated by Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg. Neither party held a majority, making a bipartisan compromise necessary to choose a speaker. Three seats require special election, which when filled are expected to bring the House membership to a level 101-101-1 for Democrats, Republicans and independents, respectively.
Republicans will be hard-pressed to win any of the three in the Democratic-heavy races near Pittsburgh in Allegheny County.
“We must have a speaker that reflects the realities that we have before us,” Gregory said. “For me, Rep. Rozzi has proven himself to be an independent voice. I believe that he will continue to forge that independent path and remain a fair arbiter for the business of this chamber.”
Majority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, who had earlier claimed the mantle of House leader, and the Democratic caucus supported Rozzi’s nomination.
“I’m sure a lot of you didn’t see this coming today,” Rozzi said.
Rozzi’s independent shift will mean Democrats and Republicans can’t rely on party-line votes to pass or kill a bill.
“It’s time to put aside the letters that come after our names – it’s time to focus on the titles in front of them,” Gregory said. “We are representatives of the people that send us here. Those people have put this House at the most slimmest of majorities. And while we cannot or should not lose our identities or the identities of our districts, it is time to put aside the primacy of our parties and find common ground for the people of this commonwealth.”
– – –
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.