While most of the nation is focused on the drama unfolding in Congress as lawmakers attempt to choose a new speaker of the House, there has also been theatrics in the adjacent contest in the Keystone State.
Democrats won enough Pennsylvania House of Representatives contests in the recent midterm elections to gain enough seats for a 102 to 101 majority. On Tuesday, however, Democrats were short three members since two lawmakers resigned and one had been elected despite the fact that he had died shortly before the election.
Democrats had planned to choose Democratic state Rep. Joanna McClintock as the chamber’s next presiding officer. In a surprise turn of events, however, more than a dozen Republicans joined with Democrats to endorse veteran Democratic state Rep. Mark Rozzi, who vowed to caucus with neither party and control the gavel as an independent.
“As many of you know, I’ve never been an ideologue,” he remarked on the Pennsylvania House floor, according to a report from the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The commonwealth that is home to independence will now be home to the commonwealth’s first independent speaker.”
Rozzi, a business owner from Berks County, is known for championing legislation overhauling Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse. He said he had been groomed and raped by a Roman Catholic priest as a child, according to a profile in The New York Times.
Democrats had claimed soon after the midterms that they had successfully turned the commonwealth’s lower chamber and promised to govern as relative moderates.
“Our leadership team will be presiding over a center-left majority, and not a left-left majority,” Democratic state Rep. Peter Schweyer said in a statement. “And so we’re going to be pushing progressive values, but at the same time be mindful that this is, in fact, a purple state.”
Pennsylvania will enter its third consecutive four-year cycle under a Democratic chief executive since Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro decisively defeated Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano in the gubernatorial election. The race, for which Shapiro had been the favorite throughout the entire election cycle, was closely watched in the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, as most new regulations on abortion from the Republican-dominated legislature had been nixed by outgoing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
The loss of the lower chamber by Pennsylvania Republicans came as Democratic Lt. Governor John Fetterman defeated Republican celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz in a heated race for the commonwealth’s open seat in the Senate. Fetterman, who suffered a stroke days before the primary election, had provided choppy responses during the only debate for the contest.