McClinton Stands Up to Defend Democracy

Speech transcription

Mr. Speaker, I stand here in defense of the democratic process, and in defense of the House of Representatives as an institution.

Over the last decade, as both a private citizen and now as an elected representative, I have watched this institution erode.

The principles that define our House, the principles that guided Speakers from Benjamin Franklin to Leroy Irvis, are that of deliberative decency.  They are that of respect and professionalism.  They are that of collegiality. 

But as our politics have become more polarized and our tenure shorter, our ability to see our colleagues as just that – colleagues – has disappeared, and rather than collaboratively working towards legislative solutions for the betterment of our Commonwealth, too often we are looking for political victories rather than policies that can lead to progress.

As Mason’s Manual Section 90, paragraph 2 makes it clear, “It is a fundamental rule of parliamentary procedure governing all legislative bodies that the opportunity to deliberate – and, if possible, convince their fellow members – is the right of the minority, of which right they cannot be deprived by the will of the majority.”

But all too often we see the right of the minority deliberately being trampled.

In committees, despite Mason’s Manual Section 638, paragraph 1(a) specifying that “no motions to close or limit debate are allowed”, we see members successfully moving the previous question to completely shut off debate.

We see committee meetings being called off the Floor providing members with no notice of the agenda, and no opportunity to offer amendments or adequately prepare to debate legislative proposals.

We see committee chairman who have proudly boasted that no matter what the proposal, if the proposal is sponsored by a member of the minority party, that proposal will never see the light of day.

We see other committee chairmen threatening to do the same.

We see these individuals being appointed to powerful committees, and we see bills being referred to those committees despite knowing that such a referral is a sure death for any minority party proposal, regardless of how meritorious that proposal may be.

We see rulings from the chair essentially eviscerating the right of the body to discharge a proposal from a disruptive committee, thus removing the only tool the House has to take back a bill from a tyrannical chairman.

We see committee staff being instructed not to cooperate or share information with their minority party counterparts.

We see the minority party being denied the right to invite testifiers to public hearings.

And at the end of the day, we see the results of these actions.  This session, the House Environmental Resources Committee was referred 68 House bills, and no bills of the minority party were reported to the House Floor.

The House Health Committee was referred 124 House bills, and no bills of the minority party were reported to the House Floor.

The House State Government Committee was referred 196 House bills, and only 3 bills of the minority party were reported to the House Floor, one of which was a land transfer and one of which the prime sponsor requested the Chairman not to run due to the issue already being settled.

The House Judiciary Committee was referred 288 House Bills, of which only 2 bills of the minority party were reported to the House Floor.

And unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, the disenfranchisement of the minority is not limited to committees.

In fact, on November 11, 2021 a spokesman for the Majority leader boasted: “Of the 83 pieces of legislation enacted in 2021…Zero have been prime sponsored by House Democrats.”

How troubling is it that a spokesman for the majority leader would boast that not a single bill of the minority party has been enacted into law?

In 2007, the Democratic Party, despite being in the majority, elected a Republican Speaker.  The Democratic majority and the Speaker created the Speaker’s Reform Commission, a commission created to bring our institution back to the ideals of a deliberative process fair to both the majority and the minority.

Among many important achievements of the Commission, our House Rules were amended to provide members and the public with 24 hours to study bills prior to a vote, to prohibit laying amendments on the table without taking the underlying bill with it, and to prohibit the Rules Committee from having the power to amend bills returning on concurrence from the Senate while the whole House lacks that power.

But over the last decade, all those important reforms have vanished.

Just this week we saw a bill rammed through committee with no notice, and then on the Floor had numerous minority party amendments tabled, without taking the underlying bill with it.

Worse yet, for the first time in our history that I am aware of, the motion to table the minority amendments grouped all the amendments together in one vote, and the House was denied its right to divide the question, thus denying each amendment the ability to be considered or debated by the House on its own merits.

This occurred despite Mason’s Manual Section 310, Paragraph 4 which reads “When a proposal is susceptible to separation into two or more subjects or parts, a member may call for its division so that each may be voted upon separately without being compelled to accept matters embraced in other subjects or parts of the proposal…It is sufficient if each is distinct and complete in itself and of such a nature that a member might reasonably wish to vote for one and against another.”

Inexplicably, multiple rulings were made to uphold such an unparliamentary motion, and the minority was denied its ability to have the House even consider its proposals on their merits.

Numerous other amendments to the same bill were ruled out of order due to an interpretation of the single subject rule that even the strictest constructionist couldn’t support.

For example, we had a bill whose title described its single subject as “in firearms and other dangerous articles”.  We had amendments that regulated firearms.  Yet somehow those amendments were ruled out of order for containing a different subject.

We had members, including leaders who are traditionally afforded latitude in deference to the office that they hold, routinely interrupted by dilatory points of order, and sometimes interrupted multiple times by the same dilatory point of order - even after the Speaker’s attention was brought to it. 

We had a ruling that proclaimed that Rule 20, which contains the identical language of Article III, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, should somehow be interpreted differently than the Constitution and does not provide a means by which a bill itself can be ruled out of order for violating the single subject clause.

We had citations to Mason’s Manual which upon investigation did not stand for what was claimed.

All this, in a transparent attempt to silence the minority and to avoid voting on the substance of minority proposals.

Mr. Speaker, we can do better.  We must do better.

We are mere caretakers of this House of Representatives.

We have an obligation to pass this institution on to the next generation in a better condition than we received it.

But if we continue down this path, we won’t have an institution to pass on.

We will have nothing more than a tyranny of the majority.

Let us return to civility.  Let us return to the Democratic process.  Let us return to the House of Representatives that Benjamin Franklin entrusted to us.

Let us be decent.  Let us be deliberative.  Let us be collegial and let us be professional.

If we can’t do that, if we won’t do everything necessary to achieve that, we are undeserving of the offices that we have been entrusted with.

Let’s do better.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.