How history-making PA Speaker McClinton is fighting for more progress in 2024 session

Screenshot of Pennsylvania House Speaker Joanna McClinton participating in an interview with The Keystone on Monday, March 18, 2024.

By Sean Kitchen

March 21, 2024

Pennsylvania House Speaker Joanna McClinton joined The Keystone for an exclusive interview and talked about her first year as House Speaker.

Soon after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, Republicans in the Pennsylvania House and Senate began pushing for a new ban on many reproductive rights in the commonwealth. As the measure was moving through the House, Republicans stifled debate and passed it on a Friday night when they hoped the public wasn’t paying attention.

That moment would serve as a pivotal turning point in Democrats’ successful attempt to flip the chamber a few months later. That night also saw a key performance from Rep. Joanna McClinton, the history-making woman who would lead the new majority the next year.

McClinton, who was the minority leader at the time, gave a fiery speech that would go quickly viral online.

“We’re talking about women dying,” she warned on the House floor. “We’re talking about half the population not being able to make decisions when not even half of this body has a uterus.”

Her passionate condemnation of the Republican legislation led to widespread praise from political watchers, but more importantly, it spread across social media and was seen widely by Pennsylvania voters.

“I took it to the social media platforms and mademake sure that people who normally were not tuned in on a Friday into session to see what was happening,” McClinton explained in an interview with the Keystone.

“They were not allowing us to give our speeches. They were not allowing any amendments and we let people know outside the building too. There is no surprise that that November, although slim, that Pennsylvania voters in 102 districts elected Democrats to take control of this chamber and to make sure that everybody’s rights aren’t protected.”

Now-Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) never thought she’d be the commonwealth’s first woman to serve in the role when she started her public service career over ten years ago working as a staffer in State Sen. Tony Williams’ office.

However, that journey began to change in 2015 when she was approached by Williams and her retiring state representative, Ronald Waters, to run for the open house seat.

“I came to this job hoping to be able to influence a criminal justice reform platform,” McClinton said in our interview.

“Two years into the job, my state representative retired and my senator said to me right here in the capitol, one day at work, ‘have you thought about this open seat in our neighborhood?’

McClinton was apprehensive about running in a special election at the time, but in the end she said she was “very fortunate” that she ran when it was all said and done.

As the Pennsylvania General Assembly returned to Harrisburg this week for the start of the 2024 spring session, McClinton reflected on her journey as a reminder of what’s important to accomplish for the people of the commonwealth.

“There is a saying that representation matters and it does,” McClinton said when asked about the significance of being the first female speaker and the second African American speaker in the commonwealth’s history. “There’s so many times when we think of a position of power, we do not see women and we definitely do not see women of color.”

Since taking over as speaker last year, House Democrats have passed over 225 bills that Senate Republicans have refused to touch. This includes raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, passing gun safety laws and expanding rights for members of the LGBTQ community.

“The good news is we will be in session until the end of November,” the speaker said.

“There is plenty of time for the Senate to look at our bipartisan bills and decide that it is time for them to send them back over a year for concurrence so we can get them to Governor Shapiro’s desk. And of course, the first one is to raise the minimum wage. Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is embarrassingly low, $7 and a quarter. No state around us has it.”

McClinton renewed her call for the Pennsylvania Senate to pass a constitutional amendment that gives survivors of sexual abuse a two-year window to pursue civil actions against their abuser.

The amendment made it through the cumbersome process of going through the House and Senate in multiple sessions once before but was not placed on the ballot for voters due to a mistake made by previous Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration.

Senate Republicans have held up the amendment for survivors in order to pass a constitutional amendment that includes voter ID and other forms of voter suppression methods.

“It says that it’s not serious,” McClinton said of Republicans’ actions.

“Packaging justice for childhood victims with one of the most restricted voter rectification bills in the country is unacceptable. We will not support any form of voter suppression. We want to make it easier for people to vote, not harder.”

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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