Perhaps you have heard of the phrase, “Possession is 9/10ths of the Law”?
Pennsylvania House Speaker Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) certainly has and it is his hope that possession of the gavel will allow him to retain the position after the February 7 special elections in Allegheny County.
Rozzi, who was elected Speaker on January 3, was thought to be a compromise selection of both Democrats and Republicans, as he garnered support from all 95 Democrats and 16 GOP members of the House.
He stated at the time that he would govern as “an independent speaker” which many thought to mean he would change his registration from Democrat to Independent.
That has yet to occur … and most likely will not.
In an interview he gave with the Associated Press, Rozzi said he won’t necessarily step aside and support Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware), the Democratic House Leader, as speaker.
“I know how to count votes, first of all,” said Rozzi. “So, you know, at the end of the day she still has to get the votes to become speaker of the House.”
Despite winning 102 of the 203 seats during the November election, Democrats still find themselves shy of a majority after the resignation of two members for higher office and the death of another in October.
Three special elections are scheduled for February 7 in Allegheny County in the 32nd, 34th and 35th Districts which are heavily Democratic. So the likelihood exists that Dems will have a majority on Feb. 8. The question – will Rozzi still have the gavel should that occur?
When asked if she expects to receive the gavel after the special elections, McClinton told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “The answer is, I don’t know.”
“I’ve been blessed and honored to make history in the House … and I would love to be the first woman to be speaker of the House. I’m grateful to have built skills and capacity to be a fair speaker. I’m prepared to do what is best for my caucus and the state House.”
Rules have not been agreed to by the parties for a special session called by former Gov. Tom Wolf and Rozzi has convened a six-member panel – three from each party – to work on the rules and find a way to pass a two-year window for child sex abuse victims to file otherwise outdated civil lawsuits.
The 51-year-old Rozzi has previously shared his story of being molested by a priest for over a year when he was 13. He considers himself a Catholic but not a “practicing Catholic within the institution.” He declined to disclose to AP the amount of a settlement he reached over claims of abuse a couple years ago with the Allentown Catholic diocese.
“Believe me, it wasn’t enough to ever make things right, I can tell you that,” Rozzi said. “It’s not enough to put my life back together.”
He has gone on the record that no business will come before the House before this issue is addressed.
One of his GOP supporters was House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster). Operative word there is “was.”
Cutler, along with Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair), insists that Rozzi promised to change his party registration to Republican in exchange for the gavel. Uh …
GOP leaders had hoped to bundle constitutional amendments on the primary ballot this spring, including the two-year lawsuit window. The lack of action in the chamber has effectively ended those chances.
“I think the mistake was trusting somebody who wasn’t entirely truthful,” Cutler told reporters last week. “That was a mistake. And there’s still time to correct that.”
Rozzi insists he only agreed to consider changing his voter registration and felt even that was part of a deal in which the two-year lawsuit window would be considered on its own. Instead, the Republican-majority state Senate bundled it with constitutional amendments to expand voter ID requirements and to weaken a governor’s authority to enact regulations.
Rozzi said he has tried to negotiate with Cutler in recent weeks, to no avail.
“You talk to the Democrats up here over the last 12 years and they’ll tell you, like every opportunity that Bryan Cutler got a chance to lie to them, he lied to them,” Rozzi said.