The Speaker of the Ohio House has resigned, days after he hired a lawyer and admitted he’d learned the FBI was asking questions about him.
Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) in southwest Ohio announced his resignation at the Tuesday evening meeting of the House Republican caucus.
He issued a statement that his actions have been ethical and lawful, but that the inquiry will likely take a long time and there are issues that lawmakers need to attend to.
Speaker Pro Tem Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) said he was disappointed, but said Rosenberger put the state and the chamber ahead of himself.
“He saw that because of this inquiry that there were a lot of people asking questions – not just of him but of our members and it caused a distraction, a distraction that I think he was concerned would not enable us to be able to continue with the good legislative agenda that we have in front of us,” Schuring said.
The news was a shock to members leaving the caucus meeting, including Rep. Andy Thompson (R-Marietta). He said he and Rosenberger were both term limited, and that he has a lot he’s hoping lawmakers will get done in the next few months.
“I wish we had a little more session going on because there’s so much of the people’s business that needs to be done, but you know," Thompson said. "We’re going to sort things through, maybe take 12 hours or so to process things and then come back ready to get some work done.”
Rep. Marlene Anielski (R-Walton Hills) said she applauded Rosenberger’s choice.
“I think out of the goodness of his heart, he has lifted a cloud off of the caucus and he wants the entire House of Representatives to work at the business at hand for the 11 and a half million people. And he gave up that to make sure that we will continue to represent the constituents of Ohio,” Anielski said.
Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) said Rosenberger did what he believes is in the best interest of the caucus.
“He has been steadfast in the belief that he has done nothing wrong," Seitz said. "But he doesn’t want the distraction that this constant drip-drip-drip of salacious allegations provides. So that was his decision and we’re determined to move on with business of the people of the House, hopefully united as a Republican caucus.”
And Seitz said the Ohio House Republican Caucus raised more money and elected more Republicans under Rosenberger than any other Speaker – so he calls his tenure a success.
Another apparently surprised member of the caucus was Rep. Keith Faber (R-Celina), the former president of the Senate.
“We don’t know what’s out there," Faber said. "We don’t know, but his reasons to the caucus were he did it for the benefit for the caucus. So if that’s it, that’s the right thing to do. Everyone’s got to get the facts and move forward.”
Faber said he hopes the decision will bring the caucus together. One member leaving the caucus said that this is – in his words – all about the Speaker’s race.
House Republicans have been picking sides for the last few months over who will replace Rosenberger next year. Larry Householder (R-Glenford) held that post in the early 2000s, and left under an ethics investigation. He’s opposed by House Finance Committee chair Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell), who was supported by Rosenberger and was at the caucus.
“I think he actively did it on his own for the betterment of the institution and the people of Ohio,” Smith said.
Schuring said he still doesn’t know the purpose of the inquiry, and that he has not been contacted, but he said he wasn’t sure if the House or any members had received subpoenas from federal investigators.
Sources say the inquiry relates to Rosenberger’s travel, including a trip to London along with two lobbyists from the title lending industry, as the state is considering new rules for payday lenders.
It’s unlikely Rosenberger will be back at the Statehouse publicly. Schuring will preside over session today, and the next sessions aren’t scheduled until after Rosenberger’s resignation takes effect May 1.