Election 2022 Pennsylvania Legislature

Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Mark Rozzi is photographed at the speaker’s podium Jan. 3 at the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

An experiment in bipartisan government in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is less than a week old, and cracks are beginning to appear.

If the compromise falls apart, the chamber will be plunged into chaos.

Republican and Democratic leaders, at Speaker Mark Rozzi’s request, must find a way to move forward together, if they plan to serve the people of Pennsylvania this session. It’s time for Mr. Rozzi to honor the commitments he made in accepting the role of speaker, especially his pledge to change his registration from Democrat to Independent as a symbol of unity.

After a week’s display of mature bipartisanship in Harrisburg, last week had a rocky start. Outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf called for a special legislative session, beginning Monday, to pass Mr. Rozzi’s signature proposal: a constitutional amendment to allow victims of alleged sexual abuse a two-year window to seek civil damages. If passed, the proposal would go on the May 16 primary ballot, where a majority of voters could enshrine it in the state constitution.

But the first two days of the special session passed without action. By all available evidence, Mr. Rozzi, a five-term backbencher who had never been in House leadership, wasn’t quite ready to steer the chamber — especially while the parties are fighting over an ambiguous majority. It didn’t help that the special session opened less than a week after Mr. Rozzi took the helm, giving him almost no time to learn even the basics of the job.

Making matters worse, on Monday, Rep. Jim Gregory, R.-Blair, who had nominated Mr. Rozzi for the speakership, blasted him for saying publicly that he was only considering changing his party registration. Mr. Gregory believed Mr. Rozzi had fully committed to becoming an Independent, and supported his bid for speaker on that basis. Both men were sexually abused as children, and had worked together to move the civil damages window through the legislature.

Amid this explosion of personal and partisan strife, Mr. Rozzi smartly suggested that he would create a six-member “working group” — three Republicans and three Democrats — to propose compromises on rules and legislation. This represents a new way of doing business in Harrisburg, but so is having an independent speaker. The experiment will depend entirely on representatives from both parties building mutual trust by negotiating in good faith.

First, however, Mr. Rozzi must keep his word about changing party registration. This is no time for second thoughts. If he can’t keep this comparatively small promise, his broader commitment to non-partisan leadership is practically worthless.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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