Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton speaks at a press conference to end price gouging and help working families deal with gas and grocery prices.
by Stephen Williams, Philadelphia Tribune Staff Writer
State Rep. Joanna McClinton D.-191st, was sworn in Wednesday for the 2023-24 legislative session as the body’s House Majority Leader and presiding officer, according to a statement released by her office.
Although, she has not yet been voted in as Speaker, McClinton, who represents parts of Philadelphia and Delaware County, said she has the law and precedent on her side. She is the first Black woman to serve in that capacity.
Adam C. Bonin, an attorney in Philadelphia who specializes in state election law, agreed.
“This is respecting the will of the voters,” Bonin said. “This is looking at who was elected and governing accordingly.”
Meanwhile, McClinton wasted no time and used her power to set a Feb. 7th date for three special elections to replace legislators from Allegheny County including: Rep. Tony DeLuca, D-32nd, who died in October; Rep. Austin Davis, D-32nd, who was elected Lt. Governor and will be inaugurated in January; and State Rep. Summer Lee, D-34th, who was elected to the U.S. Congress on Nov. 8th and will be inaugurated in January in the U.S. House.
“To ensure every Pennsylvanian has representation and to restore the state House to its full complement as quickly as possible, I set the special elections for early February,” McClinton said. Having all three elections on the same day, should help maximize voter awareness and participation, she said.
“It’s really important that these vacancies are filled promptly as leader McClinton is trying to do here,” Bonin said. “People in Allegheny County have a right to be represented as soon as possible.”
In 2004, Samuel H. Smith, a Republican, who served as the presiding officer on Dec. 9th, 2004, scheduled a special election to fill a seat vacated by a republican lawmaker in the 189th District.
“Rep. McClinton’s actions are an affront to our democratic institutions and issuing a competing Writ of Election has created electoral chaos that ultimately shows they do not believe elections matter and every vote really does county,” said Bryan Cutler, house republican leader, in a statement.
“There is precedent that basically says that the majority leader comes from the party that had more people elected and there is no question that voters in Pennsylvania elected 102 democrats and 101 republicans in this legislature,” Bonin said. “There is clear precedent that during the December period before the election of the speaker, there has to be a majority leader and that leader is in charge. State law says that if there is such a vacancy the presiding officer gets to call the special (election).”
In her role as majority leader, McClinton will also serve as acting speaker until a speaker is elected. This is consistent with precedent set during the 2003-04 session when Majority Leader John Perzel, R-172nd, served as acting speaker for several weeks following the death of Speaker Matt Ryan, R-168th.
“Pennsylvanians cast their ballots in the free and fair 2022 General Election,” McClinton said. “The results of that election are not in dispute and in the majority of legislative districts – 102 out of 203 – the people of Pennsylvania voted to elect a Democrat to represent them in the House of Representatives. Pennsylvania’s voters have spoken, and the will of the people is the ultimate authority in this Commonwealth.”
In her role as acting speaker, McClinton set the House session schedule for the first 60 days of the body’s session.
The speaker of the house’s other duties include naming committee chairs; determining when or if a bill comes up for a vote; and maintaining order in accordance with house rules.
“After more than a decade of Republican management, today is a fresh start. A day for new leaders, new perspectives and new collegiality,” McClinton said. “I am confident that together we can do amazing things to advance our commonwealth.”