Let’s unpack the crazy in the PA House

January 5 — Okay. Apparently Harrisburg and Washington are playing funhouse mirror games when it comes to the House of Representatives. 

Starting with Pennsylvania, here’s what happened yesterday. 

The day began with 101 Republicans and 99 Democrats entering the PA House Chamber. The elections in November had the Democrats with a one-seat majority, but three of those seats no longer had a person — one passed away and two moved on to other political positions. 

Special elections are scheduled for February to fill those three seats — all of which are in Allegheny County. 

So technically, the Democrats had the physical minority in the House yesterday.  

As soon as the swearing in ceremony happened, Democrats in the House called for a vote for adjournment. But said adjournment wouldn’t just be for a day. Oh, no. Democrats wanted to adjourn the House until after the special elections in February — presumably when they would have the physical majority. 

The vote for adjournment found one Republican — Thomas Mehaffie from Dauphin County — on the Democrats side, which resulted in a 100-100 tie vote.

This ended up with Republican leadership nominating Democrat Mark Rozzi from Berks County to Speaker of the House — in complete contradiction to what had been decided earlier in the morning from the breakfast caucus. 

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM said, “They were scrambling, trying to figure out a solution. Of course, getting someone to switch parties that they could vote for would have been ideal, but then this person came up. They went to him and just asked ‘would you be wiling to switch parties?’ He said to them he would become Independent, not a Republican.” 

A number of both Democrats and Republicans in the House were shocked — to say the least. 

A vote was taken and it was 115 to 85 for Rozzi with all of the Republican leadership and a few other Republicans voting with the Democrats. 

Now apparently Rozzi is saying he is in fact not going to change his registration. He said he will govern as an Independent — he’s not going to caucus with either party, but will maintain his Democrat status. 

Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “If that’s the case, the Democrats then do still maintain majority control, which therefore would give them control of all of the committees in the House. I saw yesterday some Republicans saying well we don’t think that’s true. He promised us he was switching his registration, but there’s reporting that Rozzi appeared with the Democratic caucus and confirmed to them he is still a Democrat and he’s not changing his registration.” 

Jansen suggested, “This was a concoction cooked up by the GOP leadership and one of their members.”

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM said, “The most important thing out of this here is the Republicans had a chance to have control for a short period of time, but something happened. Where did we blow it here?” 

Representative Rob Kauffman said, “The jury is still out on whether we blew it. We don’t know for sure whether he will become an Independent or not. That is certainly key.”

The ‘is Rozzi or is he not an Independent’ is pretty critical and here’s why: If the special elections go as it is predicted they will, the PA House will see 102 Democrats and 101 Republicans — giving the Democrats the majority. 

If Rozzi (who is a Democrat) switches to Independent, that would bump the numbers to 101-101. 

But so very many questions loom. If he maintains his Democrat registration, does that mean the Democrats have the majority? What if he doesn’t caucus with either party? If he changes to Independent, who controls the House? 

And around and around we go. 

Ryan suggested, “Wouldn’t it have been a good one from the Republican leadership to get that thing ironed out before you start?” 

“You would think so,” Kauffman agreed. “That is evidence that this wasn’t hatched out too far ahead of time.”

One cause for a whole lot of speculation is that when Rozzi was voted in, he pulled a speech out of his pocket accepting the nomination. How, pray tell, did that happen? 

Kauffman said, “Republican leadership claims that they had that speech written for any Democrat member.” 

Jansen said, “They were thinking if we could get someone to flip, they already sort of had that in their head. So they had this ready to go just in case.” 

Looking into Rozzi’s motivation for all of this shows a potential PA constitutional amendment that he’s sponsoring that would open up a two year window to file civil suits for child sexual abuse cases from decades ago. Rozzi, himself, is a victim of child sexual abuse, so the topic is incredibly emotional and motivating for him. 

Jansen said, “He’s very keen on getting this amendment to our constitution. So that’s his tender spot. That’s where they got him to maybe agree to do this.” 

Kauffman pointed out, “The adjournment that was proposed until after the special (election) would have delayed this particular constitutional amendment and that was his driving force. So that is what drove him to this switch.” 

Jansen noted, “When you’re emotionally involved in something the way he is, that should not be the person making policy. I’m sorry. I think that’s a huge mistake from the very beginning.” 

Ryan added, “And let’s make sure we temper all of this with get the therapy or get the help that you need, whatever it is here, but is that the cornerstone to what’s happening in this state? Legislation by emotion? That’s it right now? That should be…holy mackerel.” 

As of this writing, Rozzi is still a Democrat. 

Jansen said, “Supposedly he is going to declare himself an Independent, but if he doesn’t declare himself an Independent, then he might be able to kiss that amendment goodbye if the Republicans all decided en masse not to vote for that. So if he wants what he wants, he probably should convert to an Independent.” 

Kauffman said, “That’s the rub of where we are as a commonwealth. We are an evenly divided House. One member can really derail a lot that a certain caucus wants. There’s going to be a lot of nothing getting done because really one or two members — as we saw with the adjournment when one Republican member flipping over made it an even House and we couldn’t officially defeat the adjournment.” 

Mehaffie is the one who voted with the Democrats on the adjournment and he has said nothing about his reasoning for the switch. 

So where are we? 

At the moment, there is a Democrat Speaker of the House in PA — if that stays true and the Democrats win all three of those special election seats, the Democrats will be able to control all of the committees in the House.. 

Kauffman said, “Currently we are in the majority (until the special elections). Our leadership will be negotiating rules with him for the next two years. I think the end was to have something that was perpetual for two years. They say they want to deprive the Democrats of the majority for two years and that’s what him becoming an Independent would do. If it works out that way, it may be a moderate success, but I’m not convinced yet. The jury’s out.” 

Jansen added, “And Josh Shapiro may actually benefit from this.” 

“I suspect he is loving this,” Kauffman confirmed. “Because if you have this moderate mush governing where you don’t really have anything radical from either side, he doesn’t really have to take a serious, radical position on anything. He can just govern from the bipartisan middle and position himself to be President of the United States.”

Ryan moaned as if in agony. 

Kauffman said, “Oh no. I shouldn’t have said that. Pat’s going to lose it.” 

Jansen said, “And for Pennsylvania, he can leave all the radical leftist progressive policies in place through executive order and unelected bureaucrats Wolf put into place. We’ll still have all those things that are going to keep us a very liberal, progressive state. He won’t have to do too much to do that.”