HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) resigned as Speaker of the House Tuesday morning and handed the gavel to Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware), the first woman and second African American to hold the position.

“While I have kept to my commitment to serve as an independent speaker, in a few moments I will be resigning my speakership, returning to the Democratic Caucus, and proudly casting the 102nd vote for Speaker for one of the most intelligent and compassionate women I have met in politics, my friend and the hope of this commonwealth, she who will be the first female African American Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, the gentlelady from Philadelphia, Joanna McClinton," said Rozzi before resigning. 

Speaker McClinton was elected 102-99, defeating Rep. Carl Metzgar (R-Somerset) who was nominated by Republicans.  

“Today is a fresh start,” said McClinton Tuesday afternoon. “I’m confident if we collaborate rather than criticize, debate rather than disparage and replace shortsighted political gain with sincere cooperation - this body can do better - and will do better. Each of us is here because our neighbors have placed their trust in us. And that collective trust is what empowers us to act in the interest of our communities and to advance Pennsylvania for the common good,” she added.

Rumors of Rozzi’s resignation have circulated throughout Harrisburg in recent weeks. On Jan. 3, Rozzi received bipartisan support for the speakership, as he pledged to be Pennsylvania’s first independent Speaker of the House and caucus with neither Democrats nor Republicans.  

“While I’ve done things differently and I’ve undoubtably upset people on both sides of the aisle, I think that was not only needed, but was a sign that I was doing something right," said Rozzi. “Before you is a path to a different Harrisburg – one that can return to our founding principal of government of the people, by the people, for the people, but only if you take the next steps to safeguard it," he added. 

Republican leaders in the House say a change in party affiliation from Democrat to Independent was pivotal for their support on Jan 3. Rozzi never changed his party affiliation while serving as speaker. 

“As former speaker of the House and the twice-elected leader of the House Republican Caucus, I know that trust is the basis of a successful legislative leader and provides the ability to move our chamber forward. Unfortunately, despite the attempt to find a unique solution for an evenly divided House, Rep. Rozzi openly broke that trust essentially from the moment he was elected,” said House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) in a statement Tuesday. 

McClinton was the expected choice for speaker among Democrats after they won enough seats for a majority in November. However, Democratic vacancies muddied the waters until three special elections officially gave them a clear majority this month, and as a result, a new Speaker of the House. 

“Today we made history, we elected the first black female speaker to the House of Representatives and I couldn't be more excited to be part of that team that not only put her here, but that got us to the majority,” said Rep. Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie), Chairman of the House Majority Policy Committee. “I think together we're going to be able to do a lot of things, not just for the 3rd District and for Erie County, but for all of Pennsylvania. We promised Pennsylvanians that we were going to have a different kind of approach to governing, something that they hadn't seen in a very long time, and we're going to deliver for them,” Bizzarro added. 

“I think this is a fantastic day for Pennsylvania,” said Rep. Bob Merski (D-Erie). “Not only is Speaker McClinton qualified for the position, she has the experience, she has the academic background, but also she's going to be a unifier for this commonwealth- and I think that's more important in these divided times, we need someone who's going to bring folks together,” Merski added. 

Rozzi’s top priority as speaker was to provide a two-year window for victims of childhood sexual assault to file civil suits against their abusers and institutions that covered up abuse. The House passed two bills last week that provide a window to the Republican-controlled Senate.