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McClinton voted Pa. speaker; first Black woman to win post

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Philadelphia state Rep. Joanna McClinton on Tuesday became the first woman to serve as speaker of the Pennsylvania House, ascending to the chamber's top position on the strength of a fresh one-vote Democratic majority.

“It was almost 250 years before a woman could stand at this desk, not just to give a prayer, but to get the gavel,” McClinton said after being sworn in. “That’s pretty incredible."

The leadership reshuffling came nearly two months after Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat, became the surprise choice for speaker. Democrats flipped a net of 12 seats in November to retake majority control by the narrowest of margins after more than a decade, but their control did not become effective until their candidates won three special elections earlier this month.

Rozzi said Tuesday he was willingly stepping aside after being speaker since Jan. 3, but is remaining a House member. Rozzi’s top legislative priority, a two-year window for victims to file otherwise outdated lawsuits with claims of child sexual abuse, passed the House last week but faces an uncertain fate in the GOP-majority Senate.

“I will not allow the allure of power or the trappings of office to keep me from doing what is right. I was not elected by the people for this office and I will not stand in the way of the woman who was,” Rozzi said in floor remarks. He called McClinton “one of the most intelligent and compassionate women I have met in politics.”

In nominating her, Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, noted McClinton is also the second African American to serve as speaker, after the late Speaker Leroy Irvis, who held the position in the late 1970s. The vote for McClinton over the Republican nominee, Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar of Somerset County, was 102-99, reflecting two absences.

“She’s brilliant, formidable, and she gives voice to our values in ways that ring so true it reverberates around this chamber,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny.

McClinton, 40, a state lawmaker since 2015, grew up in southwest Philadelphia, where she still lives, and attended La Salle University and Villanova Law School. She has worked as a public defender and a state Senate attorney. She had been the Democratic floor leader since 2020, and was also the first woman to hold that position.

Democrats will have to reshuffle their leadership ranks and get rules passed about how the chamber operates. McClinton vowed that the House will "have rules that protect women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, because this is Pennsylvania, where democracy was born.”

Rozzi said his own rules proposal, developed after holding several public hearings around the state to gather suggestions, will be made public “in the near future.” A woman lobbyist's account of being sexually harassed by an unnamed House Democrat, told publicly during one of Rozzi's meetings, is fueling interest in allowing people who don't work for the Legislature to be able to file formal sexual misconduct complaints with the House.