Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton has made history yet again.
An hour after state Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) stepped down from his brief tenure in this position, McClinton was nominated by state Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) and Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) to become the first woman and second African American to hold the speaker’s gavel. She was elected to this role in a party-line vote, defeating state Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar (R-Somerset) by a tally of 102-99.
“I am prepared,” McClinton told her fellow legislators. “My sleeves are rolled up to do the work.”
She added in a rousing conclusion: “Today is a fresh start — today’s a new day!”
Since her 2015 election to represent parts of Delaware and Philadelphia counties in the House, McClinton has already made history three previous times:
- First woman and African American elected as House Democratic Caucus chair, in 2018.
- First woman elected House Democratic Leader in the institution’s 244-year history, in 2020.
- First woman to become House Majority Leader, in 2023.
McClinton is a lifelong resident of southwest Philadelphia and graduate of Grace Temple Christian Academy, according to her website’s bio. She earned degrees from La Salle University and Villanova University School of Law and worked for seven years as an assistant public defender.
She began her involvement with Harrisburg in 2013 as a staffer for state Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Delaware/Philadelphia), working “behind the scenes to develop policy and legislation; organize expungement fairs and public policy forums; and assist constituents.”
Mark Rozzi’s quick resignation
In rising to this role, McClinton inherits a House marred by unrest and dysfunction this session.
Though elevated to the speaker’s seat with the help of more than a dozen Republicans, Rozzi angered GOP lawmakers by going back on a pledge to govern as an independent. Calls for his resignation from former allies began just days after his speakership began on Jan. 3.
Following a weeks-long listening tour to hear from Pennsylvanians, Rozzi terminated his two-month tenure after House Bills 1 and 2 — measures to address the statute of limitations on abuse, a cause he has long championed — were adopted last week.
Those bills await concurrence in the Republican-led Senate. GOP leaders there have already indicated that they won’t sign on because they favor their own bill version including a push for stricter voter ID and a mandate for regulations to first meet legislative approval before they’re adopted.
Reaction to McClinton
Fellow Pennsylvania Democrats were swift to congratulate McClinton on her rise.
“(She) has been a trailblazer her entire career as a public defender, advocate, and legislator,” Gov. Josh Shapiro said on Twitter. “I’m thrilled to call her Madam Speaker.”
.@RepMcClinton has been a trailblazer her entire career as a public defender, advocate, and legislator.— Governor Josh Shapiro (@GovernorShapiro) February 28, 2023
Today, she makes history as Pennsylvania’s first female Speaker and first Black female to lead the House.
I'm thrilled to call her Madam Speaker. pic.twitter.com/Kmr2I70z0x
Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, Shapiro’s running mate, echoed this enthusiasm.
“For the first time in PA history African-Americans will preside over the House and Senate in the General Assembly!” Davis posted. “This is a fitting end to #BlackHistoryMonth!”
Congratulations, Madame Speaker @Joanna4PA!— Austin Davis (@AustinDavisPA) February 28, 2023
For the first time in PA history African-Americans will preside over the House and Senate in the General Assembly!
This is a fitting end to #BlackHistoryMonth!
Response from Republican leadership was predictably more tepid.
“As former speaker of the House and the twice-elected leader of the House Republican Caucus, I know that trust is the basis of a successful legislative leader and provides the ability to move our chamber forward,” House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler said in a statement. “Unfortunately, despite the attempt to find a unique solution for an evenly divided House, Rep. Rozzi openly broke that trust essentially from the moment he was elected.”
#PAHouse Republican Leader Cutler Comments on Speaker Rozzi’s Resignation as House Speakerhttps://t.co/PsXCpO4OhJ pic.twitter.com/RDRYtXhm9g— PA House Republicans 🇺🇸 (@PAHouseGOP) February 28, 2023
McClinton’s challenge will be leading a fractured House where Democrats hold a 102-100 majority — a majority that could fall to a single seat once a special election is held this spring to replace a GOP representative who’s resigning to join the state Senate.
“Right now, the House is in dire need of a reset, and I remain committed to working with anyone who is willing to work with us to find solutions,” Cutler said. “However, the only way we will be able to move forward is by lowering the temperatures that have risen due to an unforeseen lack of integrity that has set back our ability to work across the aisle.”