Could Mark Rozzi maintain his position as Speaker of the PA House of Representatives?

February 1 – PA Democrat Representative Mark Rozzi did a long, sit-down interview yesterday with the Associated Press – the first one since he became Speaker of the House in Pennsylvania. 

Rozzi was voted in earlier this month in what was an odd, to say the least, turn of events when Republican leadership in the House nominated him. It was believed Rozzi would change his party registration to Independent should he get the speakership. 

In the interview yesterday, Rozzi has said he will not be changing his registration. 

The mess in the PA House comes from the fact that three Democrat seats were vacant when the Chamber was supposed to be sworn in earlier this month. Because of the empty seats, the Republicans had the majority in the House. 

Special elections in the beginning of February would fill the seats. 

A number of people have speculated that once the special elections are held and the Democrats regain majority of the House, Rozzi would step down as speaker so the party could vote Joanna McClinton into the role. Now some are wondering if Rozzi will step down at all. 

Once Rozzi had been voted in as speaker in the beginning of January, therein began a bizarre back-and-forth what looked like struggle for power between the Republicans and the Democrats in the House. 

In the end, both the House and Senate in Pennsylvania have recessed until the end of February. 

Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “The delay tactic has worked. They drug their feet enough they’re going get through these special elections Tuesday.” 

At that time, the Democrats will actually have a two-seat majority. 

A Republican Representative from northern PA has been elected to a Senate seat. She presumably will resign possibly as early as this week. That will reduce the number of Republican seats in the House. 

Barkdoll said, “If the Democrats win those three special elections next week, the Democrats will actually have a working majority of two seats because the vacant Republican seat from yesterday, that likely won’t be a special election until May. The reason that’s relevant is tying that into the Rozzi interview from last night, if he does not vote for McClinton to be speaker, the Democrats may not need his vote. If all of the rest of them stick together and they say they want Joanna McClinton, they may still be able to install her without Rozzi’s support.” 

The Chamber will reconvene February 27 and it will all likely unfold rather quickly. 

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM said, “He’s not been a very stable person running this. I think Democrats will easily convince everyone to stick together and vote against him. They have a habit of doing that anyway, so I think he really doesn’t have a lot to suggest that he’s competent to stay in that role from shutting down the House, which of course is what Democrats loved him doing, running out the clock that way.” 

Rozzi has also had a bit of pet project for many years – he wants to see an amendment in the PA constitution which would eliminate the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, allowing victims to be able to file lawsuits against perpetrators. Rozzi himself was a victim of child sexual abuse.

Jansen said, “It makes me just shake my head a little bit because he himself got a large settlement that’s not been revealed from the Catholic Church because of his past abuse and then what he says is ‘believe me, it wasn’t enough to ever make things right, I can tell you that. It’s not enough to put my life back together.’ And that’s the problem. You are not achieving real justice by just draining everybody’s bank accounts and of course we know all the problems with eliminating the statute of limitations and all kinds of things that could go to people that maybe aren’t truly victims or maybe were convinced they were victims by unscrupulous mental health people who say I’m going to make you remember these things. There’s all kinds of problems with this and as he admitted himself, that doesn’t ever repair what’s going on. This is not the right way to achieve justice, but he’s going to keep focusing on that and I’m sure the Democrats will go along with him on that and then the voters are going to get a vote on this and everybody just feels sorry for kids, so they will vote for it. I really think his big mistake all along has been just a victim of this who’s been in charge of making legislation to try to solve it.” 

Barkdoll said, “If the Democrats in the House pass that constitutional amendment, it could be on our November ballot. We still have the issue, though, in the Senate, remember they packaged all three of these amendments together and it’s not clear if the votes would be in the Senate to pass the sexual assault statute of limitations amendment as a standalone. It’ll be interesting to see how that shakes out.” 

The Senate package includes voter ID and regulatory reform as well as the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. 

Rozzi created a listening tour throughout PA to see what the voters think could help the House. The group is in Penn State and Wilkes Barre the next few days. 

The tour includes six representatives from the Speaker’s Workgroup, consisting of three Republicans and three Democrats to help make the rules for the House. Rozzi said in his interview yesterday that the six should have rules by next week or the week after. 

Barkdoll pointed out, “But the House is not in session anyway. They’re not coming back until February 27th. So it remains to be seen what this group of six may roll out for the House to consider for what the working rules will be.” 

Jansen said, “And let’s say they do make some good reforms and it’s not that all the criticisms were unjust. There’s a lot of good criticisms of the way things are done and too much control in a few people’s hands, but will the Democrats even care? If they take control of the House are they really going to then change the rules that they won’t have all the power that the Republicans had? I’m very skeptical.” 

“I am, too,” Barkdoll agreed. “Because again, whether it’s a one or a two-seat majority, the Democrats are going to take over all of those committees and we know these committees are very powerful and influential. They will control what does or what does not get to the floor for a vote, which sometimes the stuff that doesn’t get to the floor is just as important. I think they see an opportunity here. They’ve been in the minority for over a decade. They see an opportunity coming up and they’re going to try to take full advantage of it.”