Ohio House sessions for this week have, once again, been cancelled due to controversy over who will be the next speaker. The fight that’s been brewing between majority Republicans in the House is now affecting the business of the legislature, and is leading to some sharp party infighting.
At the same time as former Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s Clarksville area home was being raided by the FBI, acting Speaker Kirk Schuring held a hastily called teleconference with reporters. He had just sent out a notice of cancellation for House sessions for the rest of this week.
Schuring said he wasn’t totally sure there were the 50 votes among Republicans that he said are needed to name a new speaker and he said the problem is a faction of the GOP caucus has chosen to break with it.
“This is uncharted territory that we are in right now, and I still have confidence we will get there," Schuring said. "But I am not going to roll the dice and have a three-ring circus where we don’t know what the outcome will be."
Schuring wants to be sure the caucus will back Finance Chair Ryan Smith. He’s running against two other Republicans to take over as speaker until the end of this year.
Last week, in a GOP House caucus vote, Smith was the leading vote-getter but he didn’t have the 50 needed.
Republican state Rep. Andy Thompson, who is term-limited, and Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, who isn’t running for her seat again, split the remaining votes. Thompson also has the backing of former Speaker Larry Householder, who wants to be elected Speaker in January but isn’t vying for the temporary job.
"We Have To Do The People's Business"
But Householder isn’t saying much right now. I caught up with him as he was rushing into a committee room. I asked him what he was telling his people to do in this situation.
“I think we have to do the people’s business," Householder said. "That’s what I’m telling them.”
I followed up on that question, trailing Householder as he walked to his desk in the committee room, until the chair gaveled the meeting into order.
Rep. Niraj Antani, a backer of Householder and Thompson, said he remains firm in his choice not to support Smith.
“We need to set aside personalities and personal ambitions and pick somebody who will do the job," Antani said. "And there is also the concern that Speaker Householder won all of the primaries. We need someone who can win general elections, right, to keep the majority."
Householder backed several candidates in this month’s primary who beat opponents allied with Smith.
"There's Not A Cloud Hanging Over Them"
Thompson later said he’s running, not because of Householder’s backing, but because he thinks the person in charge of the House for the next six months shouldn’t be the same person who is in charge come January.
“It doesn’t have to be Andy Thompson. It could be somebody else but whoever that is needs to be able to reassure people that there’s not a cloud hanging over them, that there’s no ethical issues that they are contending with,” Thompson said.
That reference was to Smith, an ally of Rosenberger. The former speaker resigned in April after being questioned as part of an FBI inquiry into his association with lobbyists.
Smith was a controlled measure of livid as he told reporters he has done nothing wrong, has not been questioned by the FBI and has nothing to do with the cloud of suspicion that has been accumulating.
“I believe I have the votes to win, the necessary votes to be speaker, but frankly in the past week, the tactics that have been used from bullying, to threats, to downright extortion, is embarrassing," Smith said. "And the people who ask me, 'should you make a deal?' Let me be very clear. I won’t make a deal today, tomorrow or ever with people that act like this."
Smith blamed Householder, ECOT boss Bill Lager and the payday lending industry for spreading lies. And Smith said he wants a vote taken now.
"It’s despicable. I want nothing to do with it," Smith said. "I came to Columbus with my integrity. I’m going to leave here with my integrity, whether I win or not."
The Political Fallout
Meanwhile, Democrats such as Rep. David Leland are speaking out.
“I mean this scandal has held the whole state of Ohio hostage. It continues to hold the whole state of Ohio hostage," Leland said.
And the chaos presents a campaign narrative for the Democrat who wants to be Ohio’s next governor, Richard Cordray.
“It is clear that our legislature has gone completely off the rails under one-party rule," Cordray said. "Running state government for those at the top who run who hire lobbyists and bankroll Republican campaigns has resulted in the dysfunction and corruption that has paralyzed state government and is hurting Ohio families. It needs to end and Betty Sutton and I will end it."
There’s no word yet on when three might be another vote for speaker. And it's unlikely sessions to pass pending bills will be called until it’s resolved.