Jan. 9—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — The political détente that led to state Rep. Mark Rozzi becoming speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives appeared on Monday to have crumbled.
Rozzi, a Democrat from Berks County, was nominated for speaker last week by state Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Blair, as a compromise candidate in the closely divided chamber. He was then elected to the position with the support of all House Democrats and 16 Republicans.
The understanding reportedly was that Rozzi, if elected speaker, would then become an Independent. But to date, Rozzi is still listed on the House website as a member of the Democratic Party.
Gregory sent a letter on Monday to Rozzi, asking him to resign.
"The bonds of trust between friends — as close as you and I have been — are now broken," Gregory wrote. "As a result of your broken promises, I must sadly and respectfully ask for you to immediately resign the office of Speaker."
Neither Rozzi nor Gregory immediately responded to a request for an interview.
Shortly after being elected speaker, Rozzi said: "I pledge to caucus with neither the Republicans nor the Democrats. My staff will be made up of people from both parties. I pledge my allegiance and my loyalty to no interest in this building, to no interest in our politics. I pledge my loyalty to the people of the commonwealth — the people who are tired of the hyper-partisanship from both parties."
But he never publicly clarified whether he intended to switch to a capital-"I" Independent political affiliation or to remain a Democrat and have a lower-case "i" independent approach to leading the House.
State Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Ferndale, said that Gregory felt "betrayed" by Rozzi.
"He felt that he was lied to," Rigby said. "Had he known that Rozzi wasn't going to follow through on what he said he was going to do when he took the rostrum and the promises he made, I guess to Gregory, he would have never made that nomination."
Child-abuse issue allies
Rozzi and Gregory have been close friends and political allies, united over surviving childhood sexual abuse. They have worked closely in the past on issues regarding child sex abuse, including supporting the creation of a two-year retroactive window during which victims of abuse could file civil claims against their alleged abusers, even if the statute of limitations had expired.
Westmont Borough resident Shaun Dougherty, president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), has also been aligned with Rozzi and Gregory on that issue. Dougherty, also an abuse survivor, said Gregory's letter to Rozzi "makes no sense to me."
"The guy just had the most heartfelt nomination for him that I've heard," Dougherty said. "That was just a matter of days ago, and now, all of a sudden, he wants him to resign. ... I'm actually shocked and saddened, and quite angry and a little disgusted by that letter. I wouldn't have delivered a letter to my friend Mark Rozzi like that with a loaded gun to my head."
Dougherty questioned whether partisan politics entered the matter — with outgoing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf calling the General Assembly into a special session, beginning on Monday, to consider an amendment to the state Constitution that would create the two-year window for retroactive civil claims over abuse allegations.
"They're actually up here horse-trading on the sexual innocence of children over just running this piece of legislation," Dougherty said.
Democrats won 102 House seats to Republicans' 101 in the 2022 elections. But because three of those seats are vacant — one due to the incumbent's death and two because their last holders also won other offices — Republicans currently hold a 101-99 voting edge in the chamber.
Given that situation, Gregory proposed Rozzi as a compromise candidate for speaker.
In the letter, Gregory told Rozzi that the process during which he became speaker was "the absolute professional highlight of our time here as state representatives." Gregory claimed that Rozzi was now "only thinking about switching," as opposed to the past, when Rozzi allegedly affirmed three times that he would become an Independent.
Rozzi won the speaker vote 115-85 against state Rep. Carl Metzgar, a Somerset County Republican.
Asked about Gregory's letter, Metzgar said, "Obviously, there's a little bit of buyer's remorse there. ... Simply, the deal that was apparently struck with Rozzi was not honored, from Jim Gregory's perspective. It was Rozzi's promises. Now these guys are trying to undo that deal, I suppose."
Where the matter goes from here is uncertain.
"There are a lot of options at play at this point," Metzgar said.
Rigby added: "I have no idea. This whole thing is all new to me. It could go a hundred different directions. (Rozzi) could resign. We could run a vote to have him vacate it. We could continue on with Rozzi as our speaker. There are a lot of unknowns. This is unprecedented."