On the last day of Black History Month, the Pennsylvania House elected its first woman and first Black woman speaker, Rep. Joanna McClinton.

McClinton (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) gave a rousing speech as she took the gavel for the first time on Tuesday.

After thanking many people in her life for helping her get where she is now, McClinton offered an olive branch to the GOP minority.

“The time calls for real reform and real change,” said McClinton. “There’ve been times when we’ve had policy debates where we haven’t agreed on everything. I encourage us to find issues where we have common denominators. Where we have opportunities to improve lives in every part of our commonwealth. And let’s focus on and emphasize those types of legislative bills and move them out of this chamber, send them to the Senate and to Gov. Shapiro’s desk.”

However, she also had a message for her party’s progressive base members.

“For the first time, we will not be penalizing communities like we sadly did to trans children just a few months ago. We’re going to stand up against every form of discrimination. We’re going to have rules that protect women, people of color, and LGBTQLA+ 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. So while we didn’t have opportunities to pass those types of rules before, today is a fresh start. It’s a new day,” she said to cheers and applause.

Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said, “As a former speaker of the House, I offer my congratulations to Speaker McClinton and wish her well on this tremendous responsibility. After several months of gridlock and a state House of Representatives that has not been working for the people, we are in dire need of a reset.

“I hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle join us in working to move ahead, open the House, and adopt operating rules for the House that we hope will be reflective of the priorities contained in the already-public House Republican rules draft, especially those pertaining to transparency and sexual harassment protections,” said Cutler.

In a compromise vote in January, when Republicans held a narrow majority but knew that special elections would fill three vacant seats in majority Democratic areas, Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) was elected speaker.

Rozzi resigned on Tuesday, having achieved his goal of passing legislation to extend the time childhood sexual assault victims have to sue. That bill is now in the Senate.

Rozzi called McClinton “one of the most intelligent and compassionate women I have met in politics, my friend and the hope of this commonwealth.”

McClinton, elected speaker by a 102-99 vote, grew up in Philadelphia, the child of a single mother. In her remarks, she said she overcame difficulties to attend LaSalle University and graduate from Villanova University Law School.

First elected in 2015, McClinton represents communities in southwest Philadelphia as well as Yeadon and Darby boroughs in Delaware County. Before being elected, she served as an assistant public defender for seven years and became assistant chief of the Philadelphia East Zone during her last year.

In 2013, McClinton combined her passion for public service and law by becoming chief counsel to state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams. She developed policy and legislation, organized expungement fairs and public policy forums, and assisted constituents.

McClinton made history in 2018 when she was elected the first woman and first African American to be selected as House Democratic Caucus chair, and again in 2020 when she was the first woman elected House Democratic leader. Most recently, McClinton became the first woman to serve as majority leader.

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