Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, speaks during a press conference at the Capitol on Monday, April 4, 2022 (Capital-Star photo).
By Marc Stier
Progressives throughout Pennsylvania were excited at the prospect of state Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, becoming the speaker of the state House, not just because she has been a strong advocate for our ideals but because electing a Black woman to that position would represent an important advance for people who continue to face barriers to attaining leadership positions despite their evident talents and skills.
So many of us are disappointed that, despite Democrats winning a majority of seats in the General Assembly, she was not elected speaker of the House last week. We are also disappointed that the chamber’s Republicans, who currently hold the majority thanks to three, soon-to-be filled vacancies, are apparently unwilling to recognize that Pennsylvania’s voters clearly chose Democrats to be the majority party in the House.
Despite my disappointment, I believe the surprise election of Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, as speaker of the House offers the people of Pennsylvania a new opportunity to create a legislative process that is fair and inclusive, and thus more likely to enact the public policies that the majority of us, no matter where we come from or what we look like, have long supported.
Speaker Rozzi has a record of support for progressive legislation. He has embraced higher wages and greater access to education at all levels, and he has sought to protect the critical rights of Black and brown people and women.
We are, however, very concerned by his vote in support of a bill during last year’s last year’s legislative session (HB972) which would have banned transgender girls and young women from playing school sports on teams in line with their gender. This legislation was clearly designed to discriminate against transgender people.
Even more importantly than his voting record, however, Rozzi made a firm commitment on Jan. 3 to leading the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in a way that allows all members to advance their ideas and ensures they are considered in a democratic process. That is exactly what Pennsylvanians want and need from a speaker of the House.
If Rozzi makes good on that commitment, he will receive support from a wide range of Pennsylvanians.
For the last decade, we have seen Pennsylvania’s Republican leadership use its power to block consideration, in committee or on the floor, of one piece of legislation after another that had the support of a majority of members. We expect Rozzi to end that practice. We are not looking for leadership in the House tilted in our direction. We are looking for fair, open, and inclusive leadership.
Even before the 2022 election, there was a bipartisan majority in the House that supported, to one degree or another, the central goals of many progressives: raising the minimum wage; reducing inequity in K-12 education; providing every high school graduate with an opportunity for the kind of post-secondary education that suits them best; strengthening the safety net, especially for food, housing, and health care; and making our tax system fairer.
After the 2022 election, a bipartisan majority exists in support of all these goals as well as protecting the right to abortion, reducing discrimination against Black people, and creating public policies that serve all of us fairly, native-born and immigrants.
A democratic legislative process will finally give the people of Pennsylvania the opportunity to attain these goals.
I was excited by the prospect of McClinton becoming speaker, both because she is a strong leader on these issues and, even more importantly, because she promised the kind of legislative process that is critical to democratic government. Speaker Rozzi has committed to that kind of process.
I look forward to working with him and with McClinton, who remains the Democratic leader and who we expect will assume the position of majority leader soon—to work in the interest of the people of Pennsylvania.
Marc Stier is the director of the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center, a progressive think-tank in Harrisburg. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.