“A rupture in trust” within the PA House Republicans

January 6 – The shock of Republican leadership in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives nominating a Democrat representative for Speaker of the House on Tuesday could have ramifications well into the future. 

Here’s a quick synopsis of what happened: 

When the legislators took their chairs in the PA House on Tuesday to be sworn in, there were 101 Republicans and 99 Democrats. Three Democrat seats didn’t have people in them because one person passed away and two moved on to other political positions. 

As soon as everyone was sworn in, it would have been time to turn to electing a Speaker of the House, but the Democrats called for an adjournment until the special elections could be held in February to fill those three seats. 

The vote for adjournment ended up being tied because Republican Representative Thomas Mehaffie from Hershey voted with the Democrats. 

That’s when the whole thing really slid off the rails. 

Seemingly out of nowhere, Republican leadership nominated Democrat Mark Rozzi from Berks County to be Speaker of the House. The vote was taken and Rozzi got the speakership in a 115-85 vote. 

Representative Paul Schemel said, “We were all surprised when our own leadership blindsided the rest of the Republican caucus. Mark Rozzi is a loyal Democrat. He votes with the Democratic Party all the time.” 

Rozzi had claimed prior to the vote that he would become an Independent – that has not happened as of yet. 

Schemel said, “He has put in place a Democrat parliamentarian, a Democrat staff. It was a mastermind plan of our leadership, which might sound okay, but it certainly ruptures the trust the rest of the Republican caucus has with our seven members of leadership. It’s going to be a real problem going forward.” 

One big question is will those seven in the leadership remain? 

Schemel called it, “a significant rupture in trust.” 

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM said, “I can’t help but relate it to what’s going on at the national level. There seems to be a severe lack of trust, not only from members in leadership, but from the voters and leadership. We didn’t understand what was going on with Brian Cutler.” 

Cutler had been Speaker of the House in PA since June 2020 and only recently said he no longer wanted the speakership. 

Jansen said, “We’re all looking back to some of the dumb decisions made over mail-in voting. It’s really hard. I’m hearing from a lot of Republicans over the last 24 hours just feeling distraught. We heard different stories from different actors as to who knew what, how this all came about. Do you feel like you have the straight story now on exactly how this came about?” 

Schemel said, “I don’t know that I do. I heard about this scheme probably about 30 to 45 minutes before it came down in a text from a lobbyist. I wrote back to the lobbyist, I said, that’s crazy. There’s no way that would happen and low and behold, that is what exactly happened. 

“So we all understand in politics, especially in a purple state like Pennsylvania, there’s going to be give and take, but we want that to be in the sunshine,” Schemel continued. “My constituents, they just want to know. They want to know who the actors are, they want to know what’s happening. They recognize that sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. What we don’t like are backdoor deals that we don’t know about where the electorate and all of the representatives and Senators that they’ve elected to represent them are effectively sidelined while a small number of elite people make decisions for them. Sometimes those decisions are tragically wrong. That certainly was the case with Act 77 and a number of other bills that have come through over the years, where a backdoor deal has resulted in a piece of legislation which surprises everyone and shocks everyone.” 

Mehaffie who voted with the Democrats for the adjournment has still said nothing as to his reasoning for doing so. 

Schemel said, “He represents the Hershey area. He’s a Republican. He has definitely shown an independent streak in the past. At least Tom Mehaffie is voting in public and putting his name on the board. No one is surprised by what Tom does. In a nearly evenly divided legislature, you’re going to have members that from time to time exert their ability to exploit that, but Tom generally does that in public. It’s frustrating, but at least we know what he is doing. What is more frustrating is when our own leaders surprise us with a vote that we didn’t see coming, didn’t know what the plan was, didn’t know anything and suddenly their names go up on the board in favor of a Democrat for Speaker of the House.” 

Allegedly the scheme had to do with finding someone who would switch to an Independent or Republican, which is what Rozzi promised. 

Schemel said, “The deal with Rozzi being the speaker, that may have been the best of bad options. There’s a lot of facets to that. That’s a problem in its own right. The real problem is when you elect a representative to represent you, you expect them to have the opportunity to know fully what they’re voting on and work together as a team, whether that’s a Democrat or Republican. When you have members of an elite group, the leadership, that work against their own members, they effectively nullify your Representative, your Senator’s ability to represent you. That’s the problem. There’s a violation in trust. That’s the problem more so than who the speaker is. That’s a separate problem, too. I have legislators who represent me, too. I want that legislator whether it’s in the US Congress or the State House to know what they’re voting on and not to be surprised so that they can vote intelligently and represent me intelligently.” 

Jansen said, “Leadership, who now you’ve lost trust in, is going to say that ‘we’re preventing a radical leftist speaker, who they wanted, Joanna McClinton. We’re preventing her from being speaker.’ If they don’t have the majority, they’re stuck with the guy that was elected. I’m questioning, though, if he doesn’t switch, do they have any wiggle room to change who that could be once the special elections happen and you’re at an even number, except if he keeps his Democratic seat then it’s not an even number. They have majority.” 

If Rozzi maintains his Democratic registration, and the special elections fall the way it’s anticipated they will, the Democrats will have a one-seat majority in the PA House. 

Schemel said, “You just need 51 percent to replace the speaker, so once they have a numerical majority with the speaker, this Independent, Mark Rozzi, if he voted to put Joanna McClinton in as speaker to replace him, remember he is on his way out anyway, then they return to a very clear majority with Joanna McClinton as speaker. So we have no assurances. There have been no particulars or specifics of this plan. There are none. They’re just being fielded as we go. It’s a dangerous scheme and what we surrendered in that was at least a month and a half to two months of being able to run the table as Republicans on our agenda items. So we surrendered that for maybe keeping Joanna McClinton from becoming the speaker, maybe not.”