Facing an FBI investigation, Republican Cliff Rosenberger announced Tuesday that he is stepping down as Ohio House speaker and resigning his seat as of May 1.
“First and foremost, I believe that all of my actions as Speaker have been both ethical and lawful. However, I understand that the nature of this inquiry has the potential to be very demanding and intensive, and could take months or even years to resolve,” Rosenberger said in a written statement.
“Meanwhile, there are many important issues facing our state that deserve careful consideration and review, and Ohioans deserve elected leaders who are able to devote their full and undivided attention to these matters. I believe the institution of the Ohio House of Representatives is far more important than one person.”
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State Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, who is second in command, will act as interim speaker until the next speaker is elected by the House.
Rosenberger announced his resignation at a meeting of the House Republican caucus. State Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, said the news was “bomb dropped.”
He said the heated race to become speaker of the House after the 2018 election played a role in all of the statehouse drama.
“I knew it was coming for two weeks. Speaker’s race. It’s all about the speaker’s race.”
Republican lawmakers left the meeting Tuesday night, saying they are shocked and that they knew of no one calling for Rosenberger to step down.
“I believe the speaker made the right decision for the benefit of the institution and for the people of Ohio,” said House Finance Chairman Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, who is locked in a contentious race with former speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, to be the next speaker.
State Rep. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, who accompanied Rosenberger on the trip to London, issued a statement: “I happened to be on the same trip with the speaker, along with other elected officials. I believe that elected officials should be held to the highest possible standard and that is how I always conduct myself. I wish I could say more but since there is an ongoing investigation I am not able to at this time.”
Who is in charge?
Canton Republican Kirk Schuring will remain as speaker pro tempore – second in command – but assume the duties of the speaker until members hold a leadership election. Schuring said late Tuesday that no decision has been made yet on when an election will be held or whether Householder, Smith or a caretaker may be picked.
Schuring said he didn’t know whether the House had received subpoenas from any federal law enforcement authorities. The Dayton Daily News submitted a public record request for any such documents.
On Friday, the Dayton Daily News broke the story that Rosenberger has hired David Axelrod, a criminal defense attorney, because he heard that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been asking questions.
Rosenberger’s name did not come up once during the hour-long Democratic Party gubernatorial primary debate Tuesday night. But when the candidates stepped off the stage at Miami University Middletown and learned of the speaker's resignation, they and other top Democrats began spinning Rosenberger’s demise as the latest domino in a falling train.
“My guess is this would be beyond Cliff Rosenberger," said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. “My guess is this is the beginning of something and I think it will play out all year long.”
The criticism extended beyond Rosenberger and toward Mike DeWine, the frontrunner in the GOP governor’s race and the Ohio attorney general. Pepper said he thought it was "really strange" that DeWine, the state’s top prosecutor, called Rosenberger on Friday after the Dayton Daily News broke the story that the speaker was concerned about an FBI probe.
"That is a totally inappropriate phone call," Pepper said. "You have an FBI investigation into this person. He is now the target of an investigation, and to have a sitting attorney general call him up – and I would ask him, was this in your personal capacity, was this political advice, are you somehow part of the investigation? – that is a complete no-no that he did that.”
“DeWine may be so used to it he didn’t realize, amazingly, that you can’t make that phone call,” Pepper said. “All of a sudden, DeWine may be a witness in it, which creates a conflict of interest with the office he oversees.”
Rich Cordray, the former state attorney general and a Democratic governor candidate, agreed “there’s more to come” following Rosenberger’s departure and said DeWine’s “unusual” phone call” was “symptomatic of an attempt to hush this up so that it won’t affect the votes in November.”
"It inserts him into the investigation, and it also raises a question of motives," said Cordray. "Is he trying to persuade Rosenberger to move aside to hush this up so that we will not know the full story?”
“Some actions are taken because leadership, not politics, requires they be done. I am not surprised that Mr. Pepper and Mr. Cordray find that concept unusual,” said Ryan Stubenrauch, Dewine campaign spokesman.
Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich, also a Democratic governor candidate, said Rosenberger’s resignation “is only the tip of the iceberg.”
“This is a whole system that needs to be cleaned out,” Kucinich said. “It’s a cesspool. It’s a cycle of corruption, and I’m the only candidate that has made this an issue and who has said, I’m going to put an end to this corrupt influence in our state government.”
Fellow Democratic candidate State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, said Rosenberger “obviously screwed up.”
“When politicians resign, it’s because they’ve done something wrong,” Schiavoni said. “It’s been multiple legislators at this point, so we need a governor who is going to lead and change this.”
Republican governor candidate Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor called Rosenberger part of the “good old boy network.”
“The days of the Establishment are numbered. Rosenberger is just the first,” she said in a statement.
Here is Rosenberger’s complete statement:
“As I have said previously, I am aware of a federal inquiry being conducted regarding things I may have been involved in. First and foremost, I believe that all of my actions as Speaker have been both ethical and lawful.
“However, I understand that the nature of this inquiry has the potential to be very demanding and intensive, and could take months or even years to resolve. Meanwhile, there are many important issues facing our state that deserve careful consideration and review, and Ohioans deserve elected leaders who are able to devote their full and undivided attention to these matters. I believe the institution of the Ohio House of Representatives is far more important than one person.
“Therefore, it is after much thought and contemplation that I have decided to resign as both Speaker of the Ohio House and state representative of the 91st District, effective May 1st. At that time, Speaker Pro Tempore Kirk Schuring will assume the responsibilities of the office of Speaker until a new Speaker is elected by the Ohio House.
“Serving the people of the 91st House District has been the greatest honor of my life, and I am truly sorry that I will not be able to fulfill the remainder of my term. I take this step with full confidence in my ultimate vindication, but also believe this decision is what is best for my family, my constituents, the residents of the state and the Ohio House of Representatives. I have every belief that the House will continue to lead on the most important issues facing our great state and that Ohio’s future remains bright.”