HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (AP) — A Democrat who promised to govern as an independent was elected speaker of the narrowly divided Pennsylvania House of Representatives in a surprise move Tuesday on the strength of every Democrat and more than a dozen Republican votes.
Representative Mark Rousey was elected president by a vote of 115-85 after the Republicans were unable to convert a temporary two-seat majority into a vote to keep the office. The move to nominate and elect Rousey began just hours before the vote, but his election also leaves questions about how the chamber will function in the short term and whether it will remain a Democrat.
Rosie, who begins his sixth two-year term from Reading this week, is best known as a champion of efforts to give victims of child sexual abuse another chance to prosecute perpetrators or institutions that cover up allegations. are prohibited by time periods in current law.
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The November election was so close — and complicated by the death of one Democrat and the departure of two others elected to higher office — that what normally is a heavily scripted event has instead become an era of drama and uncertainty.
The Democrats flipped 12 seats in November, the minimum required to take over the House, 102-101, after more than a decade in the minority.
But that margin is now 101-99 with the three positions open until at least February. Rozzi left questions unanswered Tuesday night about how the chamber will function in the meantime and who will serve as the majority.
In brief remarks on the House floor, Rousey said he would be an independent, vowed not to caucus with Republicans or Democrats, and to staff his office with members of both parties. He decried the dysfunction and obstruction of the Chamber’s politics, and said “Never before has this house been so divided.”
In his remarks, Rousey said, “I pledge allegiance and allegiance to having no interest in this building, no interest in our politics, and I pledge allegiance to the people of the Commonwealth.”
Democrats said Rousey would remain a Democrat and not convert to an independent. But Republicans insisted otherwise Tuesday night, saying Rosie would become an independent. Assuming the Democrats keep the three open seats, Rousey as an independent would tie the House at 101-101, when every seat is filled.
Rousey, who appeared with top Democrats several hours after the vote, told reporters on the Capitol that his transition to the podium was “totally unexpected.”
But Rousey said he wouldn’t be making any “big announcement,” and declined to take questions from reporters there, including whether he would change his registration to an independent.
“A nonpartisan spokesperson is — and I want to repeat that — a nonpartisan official of the House, charged with preserving the integrity of the House,” he told reporters. “That will be my focus as a speaker.”
However, the position of Speaker is not necessarily a nonpartisan office, as the House of Representatives emerged from dozens of years of Republican speakers who rallied with Republicans and helped lead the Republican majority.
Rosie worked alongside Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro — and closely with Rep. Jim Gregory, a conservative Republican who nominated him — in pressing for a lawsuit window after Shapiro, as attorney general, unsealed a landmark grand jury report about his office’s investigation into Roman Catholic parishes in the state.
Gregory, R-Blair County, said he and Rousey had talked about such a possibility for several months, but they didn’t bring it up until Gregory called the GOP House leaders in the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday and encouraged them to reach out to Rousey.
Every Democrat supported Rosie, as did 16 Republicans, including their leader on the floor, Brian Cutler of Lancaster County.
In a statement, Rousey was hailed by House Republican leaders as “the first independent speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.”
“Reflecting the reality of the Chamber being equally divided,” they said, “it is essential that we have a truly independent voice to run the business of the House and manage the floor of the Council.”
Democrats had initially hoped to elevate the floor leader, Joanna McClint of Philadelphia, to become the first woman to speak in the state, though it was not clear if Republicans would support her candidacy for speaker.
Instead, the Democrats went with Rousey, who drew the support of the Republicans and beat Rep. nomination challenger Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Somerset, by 85 votes.
Meanwhile, Cutler has a lawsuit pending that aims to delay the special election to fill two of the three Democratic open seats until May.
McClinton moved to schedule that election for February 7, with the third special election.
Associated Press writer Mark Levy in Harrisburg contributed to this report.
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