State Rep. Cliff Rosenberger is the first to admit that his love of history borders on nerdiness: he collects toy soldiers, the History Channel is his favorite station, and he visits the U.S. Air Force Museum a few times a month.
But Rosenberger is moving from history buff to history maker. When he takes his place as speaker of the Ohio House in January, he’ll be the first Asian-American in that role and possibly the youngest lawmaker to serve in the post.
“I don’t think anybody who is in this role views himself as the first of anything. I’m just honored and humbled to be elected among my peers as the speaker,” said Rosenberger, a Republican.
The speaker-elect grew up surrounded by four generations of Rosenbergers in Clarksville, a town of less than 550 people in Clinton County. Rosenberger, 33, is a Baptist with a southern accent and a mom from South Korea. He lives in Clarksville — on land once owned by his great-grandfather — with his beagle dog “W,” after former President George W. Bush.
Public service runs through his family tree. His great-grandfather, grandfather and father all served as volunteer firefighters.
“I was a cadet. I should’ve stayed with it. I would have been a fourth generation volunteer firefighter in the same department had I stayed,” Rosenberger said, pointing out his father’s firefighter helmet on a shelf in his office overlooking the Ohio Statehouse. “I still, to this day, when I hear the sirens wonder where they’re going and what’s happening.”
“My grandfather always said ‘You never forget where you came from. Never forget you have an obligation to give back to your community,’” Rosenberger said. His debut in community service came at age 16 when his grandparents pushed him to be director of the Clarksville parade. Two years later, he enlisted in the Air Force where he spent 12 years.
His path to the speaker’s office ran through George W. Bush’s White House, Wright State University, the Air National Guard fighter wings in Springfield and Washington, D.C., the U.S. Department of Interior and back to Clarksville, where a local official asked him to run for the Ohio House.
He is entering his third two-year term and earlier this month his fellow Republican House members picked him to be speaker – one of the three most powerful political jobs in state government.
“It is just a big honor and privilege to be elected by your colleagues and peers of the General Assembly, to now represent them. I can truly say that I don’t think I’ll ever look back and be more honored and humbled in my life than at this moment,” Rosenberger said.
Rosenberger will lead the largest caucus of Republicans — 65 — since 1967 when the Ohio House went to 99 seats. House speaker is one of the three most powerful political posts in state government.
Rosenberger will have the power to decide what bills are voted on, meet regularly with the governor and Senate president, and influence budget, policy and political decisions that impact 11.4 million Ohioans. Issues coming to Rosenberger’s desk in the upcoming legislative session: Medicaid expansion, possible income tax cuts, revamping the oil and gas taxes, abortion restrictions and more.
Over the past decade, the Ohio House as a body has become more politically conservative and is stocked with more representatives who ascribe to tea party ideals, which can make it difficult to get the entire caucus singing from the same song book.
“He has a natural leadership style that is very relational. He can make friends with enemies and he’s very good at making friends,” said state Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, who will be Rosenberger’s number two on the House leadership team. Amstutz joined the General Assembly in January 1981 — four months before Rosenberger was born.
In 2012, Rosenberger graduated Wright State University with a degree in public administration/urban affairs. His framed degree hangs in his office that overlooks the Ohio Statehouse.
“I’m so proud of that bad boy, it’s right there,” he said.
WSU Political Science Department Chairwoman Donna Schlagheck describes her former student as someone who does his homework, has excellent people skills and listens intently.
“I think Cliff will be a consensus builder. Even with the sizable majority he has in the House, he will reach out. It is who he is,” said Schlagheck, who coached Rosenberger for two years on Wright State’s Model United Nations team.
State Rep. Fred Strahorn, who was just picked as the House Minority Leader, said he is hopeful that he and Rosenberger will work well together.
“I’ve always had a really good working relationship with him. I feel like he is a person who is a straight shooter. My sense is we both want to focus on problem solving,” said Strahorn, of Dayton.