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Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton. Photo: Office of PA Rep. Joanna McClinton.
Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton. Photo: Office of PA Rep. Joanna McClinton.

Pennsylvania ushers in the first female Speaker of the House

State Representative Joanna McClinton is poised to become the first woman to hold the Speaker’s gavel and govern the lower chamber.

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Not a dull moment in Harrisburg as it ushered in House Majority Leader Joanna McClinton to be the first female Speaker of the Pennsylvania House on Tuesday, Feb. 28. 

McClinton’s rise to the Speaker’s chair comes as Berks Rep. Mark Rozzi — who was elected during a turbulent, unexpected House session — announced he would step down, marking a historic moment for Pennsylvania politics. 

McClinton is the first woman and second Black person to become the presiding officer in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, poised to set the agenda and precedent for governance in Harrisburg.

When the House reconvened after the 2022 midterms, a House session rocked proceedings as usual when Republicans put Rozzi in the Speaker’s chair as he pledged to maintain ideological independence, at one point hinting at a change of party registration. 

But Rozzi did not follow through with changing his party designation and instead embarked on a month-long “listening tour” to hear from constituents directly, following the chaos that had clouded Harrisburg, closing House operations. 

Rozzi, a sexual abuse survivor, also told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he would rethink the Speakership if the House took up legislation to address statutes within the State’s Child Sexual Abuse law, allowing for victims to sue their abusers and the institution that protected them over a two-year period. 

Last Friday, the House passed two bills, and at the start of the session today, Rozzi announced he’d step down. 

Catch up

For the first time in a decade, PA House Democrats secured a majority with a very thin margin, but two resignations eliminated the leg-up, prompting the need for special elections as the Speakership vote caused turmoil. 

“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,” Berks County Rep. Manny Guzmán told AL DÍA in January when the House first reconvened. 

Guzmán, however, remained primarily positive, having worked closely with Rozzi in the past.

But in the lead-up to that first session, Democrats celebrated the majority while proclaiming Joanna McClinton as the de facto Speaker of the House. Meanwhile, Republicans plotted behind closed doors to usher Rozzi into leadership. 

Then, the two special elections — which saw two Democrats elected — created a decisive stage for the House in which a party-line vote would tamper Republican intervention. 

McClinton’s Speakership vote was supported by all Democrats and no Republicans in the chamber. 

“I’m grateful for all who fought before me (...) so that this day was possible,” McClinton said after taking the oath of office, quoted in Spotlight PA. “It is only on their shoulders that I stand here today.”

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