Fight to lead Ohio House leads to accusations of threats, bullying

The battle to pick an interim speaker of the Ohio House took a bizarre turn Wednesday as accusations were made about threats, bullying and extortion.

State Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, who is vying to be speaker for the remainder of the two-year session and the next session starting in January, held an extraordinary press conference outside the House chamber accusing his opponent of intimidating staff and House members.

“There is no sugar coating this. There is no use in trying to walk around the issue. It is very much him,” Smith said of former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford.

Householder said in a written statement: “It’s my understanding that Rep. Smith made a litany of unfounded allegations that are unequivocally false. I don’t believe wild accusations and name calling is a responsible course to resolving conflicts and only leads to greater divides.”

Householder and Smith are both seeking the speaker’s gavel in January 2019, after the November election seats new members. Smith and state Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, are vying to serve as speaker for the next seven months. Smith called Thompson a proxy for Householder.

By all accounts, it was a bad day for the Ohio House Republicans: their former leader Cliff Rosenberger had his home raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, bills piled up into a logjam and all the sessions scheduled for this week got canceled.

The Ohio House cannot pass legislation until members pick a speaker to serve the remaining seven months of the two-year session. The chamber has been without a speaker since Rosenberger resigned a month ago amid an FBI investigation. Agents raided Rosenberger’s house in Clarksville and a storage area in Wilmington on Wednesday.

Related: FBI raids Rosenberger house, nearby storage building

Smith denies any wrong doing and says he has not been contacted by the FBI nor has he hired an attorney.

“Let me be very clear: I won’t make a deal today, tomorrow or ever with people who act like this. 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.”

Related: The fast and furious fall of Cliff Rosenberger

Issues that impact large swaths of Ohioans are tied up in the legislative logjam: money for new voting machines, plans to revamp how child support orders are calculated, and sweeping reforms to payday lending practices.

Sources familiar with the FBI investigation say agents are looking at international trips Rosenberger took while House Bill 123, the payday lending reform bill, stalled on his watch. Payday lenders helped underwrite the cost of the trips, documents show.

Related: Big money and political muscle on display in payday lending clash

Related: Payday lender made 3 international trips with ex-Ohio House speaker

Smith said failure to pick a new speaker served the interests of the payday lending industry. “The best thing for them to happen is for us never to come back and then we can’t pass the bill,” he said.

Six major business groups, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Farm Bureau and Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, issued a statement this week, urging lawmakers to pick a new speaker and get back to work.

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