Pennsylvania Latino state lawmakers confident about Speaker vote
A gust of uncertainty swept Harrisburg yesterday, but that didn’t stop Latino representatives from voting along party lines.
Berks County Rep. Manny Guzman is still finding his bearings this week in Harrisburg anew after the midterm elections, while simultaneously navigating the unexpected sequence of events in the search for a new House Speaker in PA’s lower chamber.
The Speaker vote — expected to sway Democratic after securing the 102-seat majority in the House — felt uncertain after House vacancies reduced an already razor thin majority for House Democrats, leaving them with 99 members against 101 Republicans.
Guzman, along with all other Latino lawmakers — including incumbent Danilo Burgos, and recently elected José Giral and Johanny Cepeda Freytiz — all voted to forward Berks County representative Mark Rozzi into the Speaker’s chair.
“I think the highlights yesterday, besides the chaos in general, is the fact that Republicans having 101 members, a clear majority, could not elect one of their own members of their caucus to be Speaker,” Guzman said.
Guzman, an incumbent, celebrated a preliminary projection in November with House colleagues when it was narrowly expected Democrats would seize control of the lower chamber for the first time in a decade, and effusively proclaimed Minority Leader Johanna McClinton the incoming House Speaker.
“Everybody’s expectation was that Leader McClinton was going to be that person and that choice. But as with all things, nothing is set in stone until the votes are cast, and yesterday, the votes were cast, and they happened to fall in Representative Rozzi’s favor,” Guzman remarked.
He told the Philadelphia Inquirer this week he had an “inkling,” but wasn’t necessarily sure how the day would unfold.
“I’ve worked with Mark Rozzi outside of my position of state representative, and now in my position as state representative I’ve worked with him. I know the kind of person he is, the values he believes in, and I think that he’ll bring those things into fruition as Speaker of the House,” Guzman continued.
Guzman added that Rozzi’s position as Speaker is a good thing for Reading and Berks counties, and “the byproduct is of course that Latinos in Reading and Berks county will be the beneficiaries of having such a powerful man (...) in that position.”
However, it is clear that a cloud of uncertainty still shrouded House Chambers.
Newly-elected José Giral, successor to longtime incumbent Ángel Cruz, told AL DÍA that Rozzi’s nomination was “not the outcome we expected,” referring to the unexpected victory that Dems snagged with a minority.
Rozzi’s nomination came at the last minute when the House failed to adjourn a session to select names for House Speaker, which Democrats were seemingly looking to avoid.
But a deadlock 100-100 vote to adjourn mandated lawmakers to sit still, and then, at 4 p.m., State Rep. Jim Gregory, a Republican, threw Rozzi’s name into the hat.
“Rep. Rozzi has proven himself to be an independent voice,” Gregory said, and added that Rozzi “has a proven history of making tough decisions for people over politics,” according to reporting by the Inquirer.
A second Republican vote followed. Then, McClinton, who was thought as the natural next Speaker, cast her vote in favor of Rozzi.
By the time voting concluded, the Berks Democrat-turned-Independent had a 115 vote majority, effectively becoming the House Speaker.
He told the floor he was “not an ideologue,” and that the “Commonwealth that is home to independence will now be home to the commonwealth’s first independent speaker.”
Giral, in turn, says Rozzi “pledged” to uphold bipartisanship, and isn’t concerned.
“I’m new to the House. I’ve looked at his record in the past, and he’s championed some great legislation, and I’m looking forward to working with the Speaker,” Giral, the freshman Philly state rep, said.
And although Rozzi has fashioned himself an independent thinker, his record shows general reliability for Democrats, as he’s voted to raise minimum wage to $10 an hour, increased dollars for public education, and has voted against preventing abortion access.
He is famously known for spearheading changes to state law that extends a two-year period for childhood sexual abuse victims to raise a lawsuit, including in the event the statute of limitations expires.
He put the legislation together, but couldn’t reach an agreement with Senate Republican leadership, the Inquirer reported, leading him to propose a constitutional amendment instead.
It was set to go to a vote in 2021, but the PA Department of State did not advertise it pursuant to the law, resulting in the resignation of the Secretary of State.
It would need to survive a second round in the legislature if it were to appear on the ballots again.