(The Center Square) – Joanna McClinton took a step into history on Tuesday, elected speaker of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives.
She is the first Black woman to hold the position. It opened when Democrat Mark Rozzi resigned earlier in the day, and the chamber followed with a 102-99 vote for the District 191 representative over Republican Rep. Carl Metzgar.
McClinton, 40, has represented parts of Philadelphia and Delaware counties since a 2015 special election win. She was unopposed for primaries and general elections in keeping the seat in 2016, 2018, 2020 and last November.
“I encourage us to find issues where we have common denominators, where we have opportunities to improve lives in every part of our commonwealth, and let’s focus and emphasize those legislative bills,” McClinton said.
Rozzi stepped down after two months of partisan maneuvering and frustration that froze the General Assembly. He recognized he was a compromise choice, arguing that Pennsylvania voters did not expect him to lead in the General Assembly.
Democrats have a 102-101 majority in the chamber.
Rozzi called McClinton “one of the most intelligent and compassionate women I have met in politics” and “the hope of this commonwealth.”
In her acceptance speech, McClinton said, “I am so incredibly grateful today. I am in complete awe. I am truly humbled. First and foremost, I give honor to God. God is the head of my life, the source of my strength.”
She spoke of the chamber taking “a fresh start” and moving beyond partisan fights.
“Give me the chance,” McClinton said. “Give me the opportunity to show you what I can do for this chamber, for this great institution – give me this chance and the opportunity to do the work off the floor, to get to know you, to find out what your priorities are.”
She also pledged to prioritize equality.
“We’re going to stand up against every form of discrimination,” she said. “We’re going to have rules that protect women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, because this is Pennsylvania, where democracy was born.”
The previous months of democracy in action, though, have been tough for the previous speaker. Tuesday, he pledged his support to her and the people of the state.
Despite the difficulties of running a special session in the House, accusations of betrayal over Rozzi’s reluctance to go independent after declaring he would, and the uncertain fate of a child sex abuse survivors bill, Rozzi reflected on his short tenure with satisfaction.
“I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in these two months as speaker of the House of Representatives,” Rozzi said. The rules to govern the House session “will fundamentally change the way we operate moving forward. Leaders should be first amongst equals, not first above all others.”
When the House voted on a new speaker, Democrats nominated McClinton and Republicans nominated Metzgar, as they did when Rozzi was chosen.
“He is no frills, no fuss, yet tailored, sharp, effective, and distinguished,” said Rep. Stephanie Scialabba, R-Cranberry Township. “He tells the truth. He takes pride in being an American and a Pennslyvanian.”