Rep. Joanna McClinton Has Made History in Harrisburg, and Hopes to Use Her Experience to Lead a New Group of Lawmakers Into the Future

Rep. Joanna McClinton (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

By Ashley Adams

February 9, 2023

Rep. Joanna McClinton has risen through the ranks of the Democratic party to take on a leadership role in getting the legislative priorities of her party passed.

State Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) has made history in Harrisburg, rising through the ranks to become the first Black woman to be elected chair of the House Democratic Caucus and first female House Democratic leader. Yet becoming an elected official was something she had to be talked into.

McClinton was never seeking a career in politics, and was unaware of how the legislative process worked, what committees existed, and what actually occurred in Harrisburg. It wasn’t until she got a job as chief counsel to state Senator Anthony Hardy Williams in 2013 that she said she “fell in love with the space where so many people’s lives are impacted by the decisions made in that building.”

“In my time working for the senator, I learned so much and enjoyed it and when there was a vacancy in my neighborhood one would think I would naturally say I’ll run, except I didn’t,” McClinton said. “I was solicited repeatedly and continuously said no. Then I really had to have a tough conversation with myself about why I wasn’t interested, what I was afraid of, and why I was being so cautious. I’m really grateful I got out of my own way.”

Elected in 2015 in a special election for the 191st district in Philadelphia, McClinton’s political career started off much differently than those who were recently elected. She was thrown right into the mix of voting sessions and a budget impasse. She learned some hard lessons, including packing more than two days of outfits. 

“You come on a Monday but you could end up there on a Thursday,” McClinton said. “I had some tough lessons to learn in the beginning. We were in voting session all the time. It was almost the exact opposite of how the session is starting now.”

McClinton is hopeful going into the new legislative session, as the commonwealth has its most diverse legislature ever with many new, younger lawmakers joining the ranks, and with Democrats gaining the majority in the state House for the first time in 12 years.

“Our caucus has been able to lead on a lot of issues with just 90 people,” McClinton said. “I am thrilled with the work we achieved in the minority and I know that we will be able to double down on our positive impact for every part of our commonwealth with 102 members in our caucus. We are used to working across the aisle. We are used to finding common ground. I look forward to being able to build upon that, and creating a fresh climate in the House where we are more intent on the work.”

Legislative Priorities for the 2023-24 Session

As the House Majority Leader, McClinton will decide what legislation will be considered and voted on in the House and has the responsibility of amplifying the voices of her caucus. She said the legislative priorities for the Democratic Caucus include:

  • Expanding affordable housing
  • Increasing the minimum wage
  • Ensuring paid sick leave is available 
  • Fair funding for schools
  • Ending worker misclassification (Incorrectly classifying a worker as an independent contractor, denying them benefits)

What Are the Next Steps Now That the House Majority Has Been Determined?

Simply put, McClinton said it’s about collaboration and compromise.

“The issues that we agree upon, we need to focus on them,” McClinton said. “We need to create solutions to those problems where we all see a common denominator. Unfortunately, Republicans have not been a part of bipartisan solutions and they have used every tactic since Nov. 8 to hold on to their fading majority. I hope that when we return to session this month that we can talk about our vision for collaboration and where we can actually collaborate because we recognize that even though we don’t have a huge majority like they maintained for so long, that we are going to serve. We are going to work. And we are going to respect policy ideas, and if they are great ideas, even if they come from the minority caucus, we want to get them to the floor for a vote so they can get to the Senate and get to Gov. Shapiro’s desk for his signature.”

Moving Past a Rocky Start to the Session

Going into the start of the current legislative session last month, McClinton was reported to be the Democrat’s top choice for speaker. She would have made history as the first woman to be speaker in the institution’s more than 240 years, and just the second Black person. McClinton would have joined Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Debra Todd as the first women to lead their chambers.

Instead, McClinton threw her support behind Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) who was nominated by a Republican and ultimately won the position.

“I definitely wanted to do what’s best for my caucus and the institution,” McClinton said. “So recognizing that Mark had support from across the aisle, I thought we would be in the best hands with a member of our caucus and who was able to reach across the aisle and get the votes.”

Over the past month, McClinton said members of her caucus have hit the ground running by working in their respective communities, doing research, writing bills, and meeting with the new administration. She said she looks forward to the outcome of the work group that Rozzi created, who will be providing suggested rules for the House.

“We look forward to building a consensus around those rules when the House is back in session the 27th of February,” McClinton said.

Do you know who represents you in Harrisburg? Find out here.


  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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