COMMENTARY: Without a Speaker, even less is getting done

Members of the Ohio House get paid a minimum of $60,584 a year; many are paid more. Legally, the job is part-time. And a House seat offers sweet benefits. One is taxpayer-subsidized health-care coverage – something some House members would like to deny poor Ohioans.

Some House members also seemingly want to make nice with payday lenders, who’ve defied consumer protections that Ohio voters emphatically approved statewide in 2008. Voters’ best response to that is House Bill 123, sponsored by Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Springfield Republican, a bill that offers payday loan borrowers protections that will stick.

That’s why lenders’ lobbyists want to kill HB 123. They want to hide that frank fact by, for instance, implying to House members that fair compromises were rejected – or that HB 123 now has “new wording” that demands further review (that is, more stalling).

That’s all deflection. As Koehler told House members in a memo, HB 123, now on the House’s calendar – the House’s daily batting order, when it next meets – is “word-for-word the same bill that (Koehler) submitted on March 9, 2017” (434 days ago, and counting). But: Without a speaker, the Ohio House can’t pass bills.

There are 65 Republicans (and Republican ex-Speaker Clifford Rosenberger’s vacant seat) in the 99-seat House. Given that, you’d think the GOP’s state representatives, even those still riding the turnip truck, could readily elect a new House speaker. Not so. There’s a big problem – and a middling problem.

Rosenberger, a Clinton County Republican, resigned in April after saying he believes himself to be under federal investigation. One thing said to interest federal sleuths is a junket to London that Rosenberger took. Among those on the trip were payday loan lobbyists. Small world, the Statehouse is.

Here’s the big problem: To become speaker, someone has to get 50 House votes. But some House Republicans (say, just-under 50) support Rep. Ryan Smith, of Gallia County’s Bidwell. Other House Republicans support ex-Speaker Larry Householder, of Perry County’s Glenford.

Almost every Republican candidate Householder backed for open House seats in May 8’s primary election won and likely, those nominees will win those seats in November. Soon after that, the House’s 2019-2020 members will have to elect a full-term speaker. That is, electing Smith now, for the rest of 2018, could give Smith a leg-up on the 2019-2020 speakership. That’s why Team Householder seems to prefer a lame-duck, six-month speaker.

True, House Democrats could provide enough votes to help one Republican faction or the other get to 50 votes, but that doesn’t seem likely. Besides, they’re probably enjoying the show.

An Ohioan’s common-sense question has to be, don’t House rules provide for someone else to stand in when the speakership is temporarily vacant? The answer, evidently, is no.

A few years back, when Medina Republican William G. Batchelder became House speaker, he chose as the House’s back-up rulebook one composed long ago by Wilmington native Edward W. Hughes. Hughes’s guide was used at the Statehouse at least through the 1930s. It was an Ohio tradition. The gentleman from Medina likes tradition. He brought back Hughes’s guide.

Pre-Batchelder, Ohio’s House used a guide called Mason’s; roughly 70 of the nation’s 99 state legislative still do. Some other chambers use Thomas Jefferson’s rules, while three use rules devised in the 1890s by U.S. House Speaker Thomas “Czar” Reed, a Maine Republican.

In any case, the Hughes guide doesn’t provide for a speaker stand-in, say those who know, so no speaker, no voting sessions of the House. What happens next is up to the House’s GOP caucus.