In an unprecedented vote, the Ohio House has elected a new speaker, rejecting the Republican who had been serving in that position since June, when the previous speaker resigned.
The election of former Speaker Larry Householder back to the job that he held in the early 2000s comes after months of battling for that post, and with as many votes from minority Democrats as from members of his own caucus.
Householder (R-Glenford) joked a bit as he took his spot in front of the House.
“Either over the last 18 years, this dais has gotten smaller or I have gotten larger," Householder said.
And then he got serious.
“This is a very divisive time, and I guess I would like to say is I would like to call Ryan Smith up here if I could," Householder said.
State Rep. Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) has served as speaker since June after former speaker Cliff Rosenberger resigned amid an FBI investigation. Smith greeted with applause as Householder, admitting he and Smith hadn’t been “the best of friends” during their behind-the-scenes battle, called Smith up to the dais.
“Well, I look forward to serving the 133rd. This has been the greatest honor of my life to be the Speaker or just to be state representative," Smith said.
Householder then called state Rep. Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton), the House Minority Leader, to join him. Householder pledged to work across the aisle.
One thing Householder will have to deal with is a claim filed by a legislative staffer who says she has been the target of sexual and racial discrimination.
Marissa Reyes said she’s filed a complaint and a House caucus employee says the matter is under investigation. Householder said his two staffers are not involved but he says he’ll look into the situation. And he plans to hire a human resources professional to deal with issues like this.
“We want to make sure we have a professional HR department to address these issues, make sure the people are treated fairly and someone who is professional that members and staff can go to," Householder said.
Householder also wants committee meetings to be televised so the public can watch lawmakers conduct hearings. He said he also wants to allow Democrats to serve as co-chair in some new subcommittees involving education, criminal justice and energy.
And Householder pledges Democrats will get more say in the legislative process by allowing discussion on all proposed amendments. Householder said it’s all part of restoring the House to the great state it was in when he left it 14 years ago.
“This House has went through some very tough times during the past four years and we have a lot of work to do to make sure we put this house in order," Householder said.
Householder said his first order of business is the state budget and school funding.
In a tight speaker race, it was minority Democrats who tipped the scales for Householder, making up half of the 52 votes in his favor.
Democratic supporters say Householder promised to push a pro-labor agenda and bring more transparency to the process.
But Minority Leader Fred Strahorn disagreed that his caucus playing a role in the speaker fight.
“Everybody’s gonna have to own their vote today and if we get down the road and people are dissatisfied with the ways things are going and the issues that we have to deal with - and they do get pushed through - they’re gonna have to own that and they’re gonna have to own that with their constituents," Strahorn said.
However, longtime state Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire) said they were able to negotiate with Householder for the things they wanted. He said Householder promised to make sure measures to restrict workers from forming unions aren’t pushed through – even though some Republicans who voted for Householder have backed those kinds of bills before.
Cera was asked if he and other Democrats who voted for Householder are at all concerned they’ll have to be held accountable for whatever controversial measures Householder does move forward, such as the “Heartbeat Bill,” which bans abortions as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy.
“You know, you’re not going to stop those. I mean – I told this to our caucus – the fact remains the Republicans still have 61 votes, we have 38. So there are still things that are going to come up, but I think hopefully we can maybe not be voting on four or five every session, which I think will be a good thing for us," Cera said.
Householder’s surprising win meant a delay in the rest of the leadership votes, including the expected re-election of Strahorn as minority leader.