Democrat-turned-independent wins Pennsylvania House leadership post with GOP support

A Democrat-turned-independent Pennsylvania state representative was elected Speaker of the state’s House of Representatives on Tuesday, after several Republicans joined with Democrats in a surprise turn of events.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi, who has served as a Democratic member of the House for a decade, said he would govern as an independent, after the closely divided chamber voted 115-85 to elect him Speaker. Rozzi is the first independent Speaker of the Pennsylvania House.

“We’ve heard from the people of Pennsylvania, the press and even members in this own building about how we need to find a new path forward,” Rozzi said, after being sworn in. “My entire career I believe I have worked to find that path, and I am honored to have your trust today to serve as Speaker.”

Despite taking a slim one-seat majority in November’s elections, Pennsylvania Democrats were down three members in the House on Tuesday, after the death of one state representative and the resignations of two others.

This meant Democrats had 99 members to Republicans’ 101 members and could not elect House Democratic Leader Rep. Joanna McClinton as they had planned.

Republican state Rep. Jim Gregory, who initially put forward Rozzi as a candidate for the Speakership, acknowledged the peculiar nature of his nomination on Tuesday.

“At first blush, many might be wondering why a Republican is standing up to nominate a member of the Democrat caucus,” Gregory said. “The answer is really very simple – we must have a Speaker that reflects the realities that we have before us.”

“For me, Rep. Rozzi has proven himself to be an independent voice,” he continued. “I believe that he will continue to forge that independent path in remaining a fair arbiter for the business of this chamber.”

Gregory was joined by fellow Republican, state Rep. Tim O’Neal, who seconded his nomination of Rozzi. McClinton followed the two Republicans in praising Rozzi as a “true leader among us” and said the Democratic caucus supported his nomination.

Sixteen Republican ultimately joined Democrats in voting for Rozzi as Speaker.

The unusual move in Pennsylvania’s statehouse came as federal lawmakers in Congress failed to settle on a Speaker, despite three rounds of voting, for the first time in decades.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), the GOP leader, failed to muster the necessary votes to become Speaker, and the House adjourned Tuesday evening with many on Capitol Hill wondering if a compromise candidate might emerge overnight.

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