Monday, Oct 22, 2018
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Tom Troy

House leadership fight a sorry spectacle

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    Ohio Rep. Ryan Smith addresses the media during a press conference outside the Ohio House of Representatives May 23 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio.


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The leadership fight that played out on the previously-august floor of the Ohio House of Representatives was a spectacle that was more fun than watching the NBA.

In both contests — the Cavaliers in Cleveland, and the Republicans and Democrats in Columbus — Ohio lost.

And it was a big joke to a lot of people on the floor of the House.

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Some made light of the situation, using terms like “the Acclaimed”, “the Illustrious,” and even “the Bearded,” as they jokingly nominated people for Speaker, knowing full well the process that took place on Wednesday was going to end with state Rep. Ryan Smith (R., Gallia County) as speaker.

It was fun, but also kind of embarrassing.

Not clear whether the participants who engineered the Ohio version of “government shutdown” will be embarrassed.

Here’s a quick rehash of what happened:

The Cavaliers were trading the lead with the Golden State Warriors when all of a sudden Kevin Durant of the Warriors ... Oops, wrong game.

So, former Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger (R., Clarksville) resigned as the Speaker of the House in April when it was revealed that the FBI was looking into a relationship he had with payday lender lobbyists. While he was tripping off to London with payday lenders, a piece of reform legislation that was supposed to bring predatory interest rates under control was bottled up in the Speaker’s desk.

In other words, legislation designed to make life better for Ohioans was sidetracked because the Speaker was good buddies with the lobbyists for the industry.

Mr. Rosenberger was already term-limited and the plan was for him to be succeeded by Mr. Smith.

However, state Rep. Larry Householder of Perry County had other plans. He also wanted to be speaker and has taken advantage of the cloud of suspicion over Mr. Smith since the FBI became interested in Mr. Rosenberger’s playing footsie with the payday lending lobbyists.

Mr. Householder — who was speaker from 2001 to 2004 and who also left because of an FBI investigation, with no charges ever filed — helped about 20 Republicans win primaries on May 8 with a goal of making a play for the job of speaker in January.

Mr. Householder already has at least 18 allies in the House — including state Rep. Derek Merrin of Monclova Township — and they refused to support Mr. Smith, leaving him unable to corral the 50 votes that were needed for the speaker to be elected entirely by the Republican caucus, without having to ask for Democratic votes.

The upshot is that the House on Wednesday went through a rarely, if ever, used procedure to elect a Speaker because while Mr. Smith needed 50 votes, he only had 44 in the House on Wednesday.

Under the House’s rule, on the first 10 votes for Speaker the winner had to have a majority. On the 11th, he only needed a plurality, and so he won, as was known by all in the chamber would happen.

Over the next seven months, Mr. Smith has the opportunity to make new friends among Republican members who might currently be Householder allies.

He controls all legislation, so anyone who wants a bill or amendment moved would probably need the Speaker’s help.

He also controls the Ohio House Republican Organizational Committee, which dispenses money to help Republicans win their House races. There are some Republicans on the ballot in November who have not been Smith supporters and may not get OHROC help if they persist in supporting Mr. Householder.

The government shutdown and the leadership fracas were not good developments for Mr. Householder, because even if Mr. Smith has only 46 votes, Mr. Householder will still have fewer than that. However, Householder forces say some of those who voted for Mr. Smith Wednesday will switch to Mr. Householder in January.

On the other hand, Smith partisans say that Mr. Householder’s position is diminished and it is Mr. Smith who will pick up votes.

The outcome could be good for Ohio citizens because Mr. Smith is known as a serious “policy guy.” Though Mr. Smith has come under a shadow because of his close relationship with Mr. Rosenberger he is seen as someone less interested in the social side of the General Assembly and more interested in passing good legislation rather than political red meat. However, Mr. Householder is a hardball player and a deal maker.

That probably means that payday lending reform and moderate gun ownership restrictions such as the ones Gov. John Kasich has advocated now have a chance of moving forward under Mr. Smith.

The House went almost a month without being able to pass legislation and is about 100 bills behind schedule.

It was obvious from the beginning that Mr. Smith was going to win on the 11th vote, and yet the Householder partisans forced the unnecessary and embarrassing — yet, we admit — entertaining parliamentary game that played out on Wednesday.

That’s petty gamesmanship that doesn’t reflect well on Mr. Householder, or those who supported him.

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com419-724-6058, or on Twitter @TomFTroy.

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