HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - With a death and two recent resignations for Pennsylvania House Democrats, anticipation was high for Tuesday, as 101 Republicans and 99 Democrats would have to choose a new Speaker. Democratic Representative Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) was ultimately nominated by a Republican and defeated Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar (R-Bedford/Somerset) by a margin of 30 votes in a near-evenly-split House, 115-85. 

The nomination of Rozzi came as a surprise to many, as did his announcement shortly after being elected.  

“The commonwealth that is home to Independence Hall will now be home to this commonwealth’s first independent Speaker of the House,” said Rozzi, as he addressed the lower chamber Tuesday afternoon. “I do not intend to caucus with either party on the legislative happenings of the House. This is consistent with the practice of most Speakers. The speakership is a non-partisan officer of the House, entrusted with maintaining the integrity of the House. That will be my focus as Speaker,” Rozzi added during a press availability Tuesday evening. 

Rozzi has represented the 126th Legislative District since 2013 and is well known for his advocacy to support victims of childhood sexual abuse. Rozzi is a survivor of Catholic clergy abuse and has consistently rallied with advocates and survivors, urging Senate leadership to pass his legislation that would create a two-year window for child sex abuse victims to file civil lawsuits.  

Rozzi worked closely with Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair) and others to sponsor and support bipartisan bills that mirrored the Grand Jury's recommendations after its investigation into abuse by Catholic clergy. Gregory nominated Rozzi and said he has what it takes to lead as Speaker.  

“As time to put aside the letters that come after our names, it's time to focus on the titles in front of them. We are representatives,” said Gregory. “We need a Speaker like Representative Rozzi, who has a proven history of making tough decisions for people over politics,” he added.  

Lawmakers on both sides were anticipating a wide variety of scenarios to unfold yesterday, but it's safe to say a potential Independent Speaker was not on the list.  

“We knew the dynamics were going to be interesting,” said Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter), who voted for Metzgar, but says an Independent Speaker could prevent gridlock. “I'm cautiously optimistic. I want to see good things, I want to see good policies moving forward in Pennsylvania,” he added.  

Some say the nomination and election of Rozzi show signs of good government and bipartisanship. Though it may be unprecedented, political experts say it may be just what the lower chamber needs. 

“That's a sign of real, of a healthy democracy,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bloodworth, Professor of History at Gannon University. “This is a case of where the legislature actually brokered a solution. The legislature found a way through this impasse, the courts did not need to act, and we're going to have a functioning government,” Bloodworth added. 

Bloodworth says it's an example of how government should work, especially at a time when agreeing on a Speaker is a sore subject.  

“It's a clown show. The whole country is being hamstrung by less than 20 members of the House. Look to the states, see what the grownups are doing. Look at the kids table in Washington,” said Bloodworth. 

Even though Rozzi said he’ll be an independent Speaker, whether he will actually leave the Democratic Caucus and reaffiliate as an Independent still isn't clear. Republicans say changing his party affiliation is a must. 

“I think changing the party affiliation to Independent is a must, it has to happen. I think that's a sure sign of what you're going to do then as the Speaker,” said Owlett. 

House Republican leadership issued a joint press release Tuesday evening congratulating Rozzi, referring to him as the commonwealth’s first Independent Speaker, and replacing the “D” with an “I” when indicating his party: "Rep. Mark Rozzi (I-Berks)." 

“We want to congratulate Rep. Mark Rozzi, Pennsylvania’s first Independent Speaker of the House, on his election today. Reflecting the realities of an evenly divided chamber, it is imperative we have a truly independent voice to conduct House business and manage the House floor.” 

House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) added the following statement: 

“As a former Speaker myself, I can attest to the fact that the presiding officer of this chamber must remove himself or herself from their own political beliefs and put the institution before individuals. I have known Rep. Rozzi for many years and know he will rise to the occasion and meet the moment as a truly independent leader for the Pennsylvania House.” 

Unlike Republicans, Democrats still refer to Rozzi as one of their own: "Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks)." 

If Rozzi does become an Independent, that could further complicate the numbers for each House caucus. According to Republicans, the partisan makeup in the House will be 101 Republicans, 98 Democrats and one Independent. 

Democrats will likely fill their vacancies with the three special elections in Allegheny County, but even with those seats, it would be a 101-101 tie if Rozzi left the House Democratic Caucus. 

"I look forward to talking to you more about my plans as Speaker, but such a heavy discussion deserves considered forethought. And as this was unexpected, I will be making no further comments tonight,” said Rozzi Tuesday evening.