A highly anticipated and unusual day at the state Capitol came to an unexpected conclusion yesterday afternoon as state Rep. Mark Rozzi, a six-term Democrat from Berks County, was elected Speaker of the Pennsylvania House.
The Speaker of the House is a critical position in Pennsylvania state government with key responsibilities including selecting committee chairs and managing floor debate.
This Speaker election had been the subject of speculation for nearly two months following the Nov. 8 election. While Democrats won a one-seat majority (102-101), they almost immediately became a functional minority party with two members elected to higher office and the unfortunate death of 40-year incumbent Rep. Tony DeLuca (D-Allegheny).
Following the November election, House Democrats voted state Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) to serve as caucus leader. She was widely considered the frontrunner to be elected Speaker, though her path to election was unclear with Republicans holding a 101-99 majority on swearing-in day when the Speaker is elected. On the Republican side, former Speaker Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), also elected leader by his caucus, was considered the most likely GOP candidate.
After several procedural delays and lengthy caucus meetings, a vote occurred in the late afternoon between Reps. Rozzi and Carl Metzgar (R-Somerset) – neither of whom had been considered candidates prior to yesterday. Ultimately, 16 Republicans, including their entire leadership team, joined all Democrats in voting for Rozzi. He was elected 115-85.
Following the election, Rozzi announced he will lead the House as an Independent and would not caucus with either party.
On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate followed the expected script. State Senator Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) was elected President Pro Tempore. She becomes the first woman to hold this most senior position in the Senate. Additionally, Ward was sworn in as interim Lieutenant Governor, replacing John Fetterman who was sworn-in as Pennsylvania’s junior U.S. Senator yesterday. Ward will serve in that capacity until Lt. Gov-elect Austin Davis is sworn in on Jan. 17.
In Washington, the Speaker election was even more chaotic – and is still unresolved. Former Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who was nominated by 85 percent of the Republican Conference for Speaker, failed to achieve the required 218 votes on the House floor during three separate instances, with 20 Republicans voting for someone else on the last vote. The House adjourned last evening and is expected to gavel back in at noon today. Republicans hold a 222-212 majority, with one vacancy.