PA House of Representatives Elects First Black Woman as House Speaker

by Xara Aziz
Voiced by Amazon Polly

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has elected its first Black woman to lead the chamber and the second Black speaker in its history.

Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, was elected shortly after Rep. Mark Rozzi resigned from the post. Rozzi resigned shortly after “passing a proposed constitutional amendment and legislation that would allow childhood sexual abuse survivors to sue their abusers,” according to Penn Captial Star.

McClinton was a public defender before being tapped into the role, which she says would not have been possible without being able to stand on the shoulders of Rep. K. Leroy Irvis, the first Black speaker of the House and Rep. Crystal Bird Fauset, the first Black woman elected to any state Legislature. 

“But there’s still so much farther for us to go,” McClinton said “And we, in this moment in time right now, have to pinch ourselves because it was almost 250 years before a woman could stand at this desk, not just to give a prayer, but to get the gavel.”

The House was unable to agree on operating rules for two months before she was appointed speaker, which she said will mean she will work to change the way lawmakers conduct business.

“There have been times when we’ve had policy debates where we haven’t agreed on everything, but I encourage us to find the issues where we have common denominators,” McClinton said.

She further added that she would work to stand up against any form of discrimination. “We are going to have rules that protect women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, because this is Pennsylvania where democracy was born. It shouldn’t matter who you love. It shouldn’t matter whether you pray, and it shouldn’t matter how you were born, and the color of your skin.”

McClinton was awarded a bachelor’s of arts in political science from La Salle University and received a juris doctor from Villanova University. At Villanova, she worked at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the Defender Association of Philadelphia. She would go on to work as an assistant public defender and was named assistant chief of the East Zone.

In addition to her legal work, she serves as a board member for La Salle University’s Alumni Association and was president of La Salle University’s African American Alumni Association. She has also volunteered for the Outreach to Youth and Hand of Compassion American Sign Language Ministry and the Philadelphia Barrister’s Association.

Congratulations, Rep. McClinton!

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