Pa. House elects Dem-turned-independent Speaker in bipartisan deal

Rep. Mark Rozzi, elected as a Democrat, said he would not caucus with either party after winning election as House Speaker (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives selected a moderate Democrat to serve as House speaker on Tuesday, who said he would leave his party to run the narrowly-divided chamber as an independent. 

State Rep. Mark Rozzi will become the next state House speaker, after more than a dozen Republicans broke ranks to coalesce around a consensus candidate, ending a quagmire that had threatened to bring state government to a standstill.

The unexpected result was just the beginning: Standing at the rostrum after being sworn in, Rozzi said he would not caucus with either Democrats or Republicans. 

“The Commonwealth that is home to Independence Hall will now be home to this Commonwealth’s first independent Speaker of the House,” Rozzi said after being sworn in.

The stunning result came after Democrats won unexpected victories across the Commonwealth in last year’s midterm elections.

The election results showed Democrats winning 102 of the 203 seats in the state House, the narrowest possible margin. But one Democratic legislator was re-elected posthumously, and two Democrats resigned before session after winning higher office.

That left 101 Republicans and 99 Democrats in the state House. All three vacant seats are heavily Democratic, but Democratic leader Joanna McClinton and Republican leader Bryan Cutler (R) issued competing writs of election to fill the seats.

Legislators returned to Harrisburg on Tuesday with no clear idea about who would win — until late in the afternoon, state Rep. Jim Gregory (R) nominated Rozzi for the post, and McClinton said she would back her colleague.

Gregory and Rozzi have worked closely on legislation to protect the survivors of sexual harassment.

In the end, Rozzi beat out state Rep. Carl Metzgar (R), the Republican nominee, with 115 votes. 

Rozzi, 51, is a relatively moderate Democrat who represents part of Berks County, in the Philadelphia exurbs. He has served in the legislature for a decade.