By Rep. Anita Kulik
The mess in Congress over the election of a new Speaker was interesting, to say the least. Having been a local government official, and now a member of the Pennsylvania State House, I have a better understanding of what is really going on and can guess at the behind-the-scenes intrigue.
In my time as a state representative, I have seen some of this intrigue, but I never expected what I saw this past week as we started our new session.
Typically, Swearing-in Day is a time for representatives to celebrate with family, friends and colleagues. Standing on the awe-inspiring House floor, and taking the oath of office, is an amazing experience. With the rich history that precedes us, one can look around the room and attempt to grasp the history of our Commonwealth. It is, at times, overwhelming to consider that you are now a part of history.
The day should be calm and happy. I do remember my first Swearing-in Day when there was some discourse about the House rules that were being adopted. I had hoped to not see circumstances like that again, but sometimes we find that things are not ordinary, nor should they be surprising.
Swearing-in Day took place on Jan. 3 and proved to be very unusual. First, there remains disagreement as to which side holds the majority. While more Democrats were elected in November, the actual number of seated representatives as of January favors Republicans. One Democrat passed away prior to Election Day. Two others were elected to different offices and resigned this past December.
While the new speaker is usually agreed upon prior to Swearing-in Day, that didn’t happen this year. There was great dispute among leadership on both sides as to who should be speaker. When the time came to nominate members for the position, there was no agreement, and a lot of activity took place. Finally, one Republican representative stood and nominated a Democratic member.
This was a clear surprise to the vast majority of the rank-and-file members on both sides of the aisle. I agreed with one of my colleagues when he said that 195 of the 199 members did not know what was happening. Before nominations closed, a Republican representative was also nominated. Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Democrat from Berks County, was elected as speaker.
Rozzi has pledged to be an independent speaker and remain clear from the politics of either party. No other speaker has taken such a pledge and what exactly this means is yet to be seen.
Speaker Rozzi has spent his time as a member of the Pennsylvania House primarily advocating for one issue – to protect victims of childhood sexual abuse through the enactment of certain and varied legislation. His goal has been to pass to the voters a constitutional amendment that will extend the statute of limitations by which child victims may sue their abusers.