Vote marks 'historic day'

January 03, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - With the Democratic majority voting in a Republican for Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives over the sitting Republican speaker, state Rep. Todd Rock's first day on the job was anything but routine.

"It was the weirdest thing I've ever seen," the Franklin County freshman representative said after House Democrats, joined by a handful of Republicans, voted in Dennis M. O'Brien, R-Philadelphia, as the new House speaker over sitting Republican Speaker John Perzel, also of Philadelphia.

O'Brien is "a man I never heard of until today," Rock said.

It was House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, who placed O'Brien's name up for nomination, he said. Even O'Brien appeared surprised, Rock said.

O'Brien won the speaker's seat on a vote of 105-97, said state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R- Franklin-Cumberland, who voted for Perzel, as did Rock and state Rep. Mark Keller, R- Franklin-Perry. Six Republicans joined 99 Democrats in voting for O'Brien, while three Democrats joined 94 Republicans in supporting Perzel, he said.


"It's been an interesting day, an historic day," Keller said.

"That's an understatement," Kauffman said. "This is uncharted territory for all of us."

"Denny O'Brien is one of the most liberal members of the Republican caucus," Kauffman said of the reason DeWeese backed O'Brien. With Democrats holding a razor-thin 102-101 seat majority, Berks County Democrat Thomas R. Caltagirone had told Democrats he would support Perzel for speaker, prompting DeWeese to put up O'Brien's name.

"Will he even be a Republican this time next week?" Kauffman said of the possibility of O'Brien switching parties.

"I supported John Perzel because he had outlined and promised a program of reforms," Kauffman said.

Keller and Rock said they also backed Perzel on his promise to support reforming House rules, including not allowing votes on substantive issues during lame-duck sessions and late-night votes.

It was just such a late-night vote on a legislative pay raise in 2005 that raised the ire of voters, resulting in several incumbents losing their seats in November. Using the pay raise as one issue, Rock defeated then-incumbent state Rep. Patrick Fleagle in the 2006 Republican primary and again in November because Fleagle secured the Democratic nomination as a write-in candidate.

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