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Pennsylvania Legislature Selects First Independent House Speaker

In a rare show of political solidarity, Pennsylvania Democrats and a sizeable contingency of Republicans elected an independent Speaker after both major parties in the state legislature failed to put forward a successful candidate.

Democrats initially flipped the House following the midterm elections, securing a one-seat majority. However, as the New Year drew closer, a series of elections to higher office and the untimely death of one successful state legislator before election day threw control of the House to Pennsylvania Republicans by a narrow 101 to 99 advantage. After the House failed to elect a Speaker, an attempt to adjourn until February 23, 2023, was made but fell on a tied vote of 100 to 100 when a single moderate Republican voted with the Democratic caucus.

Unlike what is currently playing out in Washington, D.C., the Pennsylvania legislature found a consensus candidate in Democrat Mark Rozzi. Rozzi, representing Pennsylvania’s 126th legislative district, has a reputation for working on bipartisan legislation, particularly as it applies to the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse.

However, the stipulation Rozzi put forward is that he would caucus with neither party if elected. As a result, the entirety of the Democratic House caucus and sixteen Republicans—including several members in the Republican Party leadership, like caucus leader Bryan Cutler, caucus chair George Dunbar, and whip Tim O’Neal—would throw their support behind the Berks County representative.

Mark Rozzi won the election for Speaker on Tuesday afternoon, defeating Republican Carl Metzgar by a more decisive 115 to 85 vote. In presenting himself as a consensus candidate, Rozzi says he intends to hire staffers from both parties and focus on priorities that avoid instances of hyper-partisanship. Rozzi is the first independent Speaker of the Pennsylvania House.

“Sometimes Republicans will win, and sometimes Democrats will win, and that is fine, so long as the beneficiaries are the people of this commonwealth,” Rozzi is quoted as saying in a statement following his election. “I pledge to serve all people, not just one party,” Rozzi also posted from his official Twitter account.

Since his surprise victory and promise to caucus with neither party, Pennsylvania local and state media quickly investigated if Rozzi would additionally leave the Democratic Party.

Democratic Rep. Matt Bradford, the Appropriations Chair, initially claimed that Rozzi privately assured the Democratic Party that he would remain in the party while caucusing as an independent. This statement contrasted with what Rozzi allegedly told Republican leaders, however, that he would become an independent member of the House. The promise to become independent ultimately secured Rozzi the support of some Republican colleagues, like Cutler.

Rozzi has since changed his affiliation to that of an independent, according to the Patch.

In the coming months, Rozzi will find himself in the difficult position of putting forward rules that satisfy members of both the Republican and Democratic Parties. As Speaker, Rozzi will also manage proceedings and play a significant role in deciding which bills go before the legislature for debate.

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