After 57 days of battle waged behind closed doors and out in the open, the Ohio House elected state Rep. Ryan Smith to lead the chamber through the last seven months of the legislative term — a period that is likely to be marked by a contentious campaign season and the cloud of a federal investigation.
Speaker is one of the most powerful political posts in state government. He or she has the power to block or move legislation and has a major say in how the state spends billions of dollars, regulates massive industries and operates government functions such as education, criminal justice and Medicaid.
During the nearly two months since former speaker Cliff Rosenberger resigned amid an FBI investigation, more than 100 bills have piled up in the legislature.
Smith said he would put a contentious payday lending reform measure — House Bill 123 — on the floor for a vote today.
Some of the other issues awaiting votes include:
* An overhaul of how child support orders are calculated,
* A ‘stand your ground’ gun measure,
* $114.5 million to pay for new voting machines.
Voting took 11 rounds
Smith, a financial advisor from Gallipolis, won the speakership after 11 rounds of voting that exposed bitter divides within the 65-member Republican caucus.
Over the course of more than two hours, lawmakers stood up one by one to cast voice votes for nominees: Smith, Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, or Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton.
By state law, ten rounds could be held until a nominee gets a majority of the 91 members present. When no majority was reached, on the 11th round Smith won with a plurality — 44 votes.
Smith, who has chaired the powerful House Finance Committee, was sworn into office and called for lawmakers to put divisions aside and treat one another with respect. “We must honor our public office by expressing dignity, common decency and respect in all aspects of our lives,” he said.
“Let’s get back and lead and let’s do our work and the rest will take care of itself,” Smith told reporters after session. “I’m sure there will be challenges but we’ll transition. It’ll work. We got a lot of great staff that’s committed to this institution.”
State Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, who nominated Smith for job, called him a respectful, respected, reliable and decisive leader.
Just capturing the interim job proved to be a monumental struggle for Smith, chair of the powerful House Finance Committee and Rosenberger’s hand-picked successor. For weeks, he fell short of 50 votes from among the 65 Republican House members to land the job.
Rosenberger announced his resignation April 10, effective April 12. The Federal Bureau of Investigation raided his Clarksville home and Wilmington storage space on May 23.
Sources familiar with the investigation say agents are focused on Rosenberger’s international tripsunderwritten and attended by payday lending industry officials while House Bill 123 stalled on his watch.
Another speaker vote coming in January
Because of term limits and the November election, the makeup of the Ohio House will change in January and former House speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, and Smith both want the job when members will again elect a speaker.
The Miami Valley delegation was divided over who should get the speaker’s job for the remainder of 2018.
All but two Democrats present voted for Strahorn in each of the 11 rounds.
Local Republicans backing Smith included: Mike Henne of Clayton, Kyle Koehler of Springfield, George Lang of West Chester, Scott Lipps of Franklin, Rick Perales of Beavercreek, and Jeff Rezabek of Clayton.
Republicans backing Thompson included John Becker of Cincinnati, Jim Butler of Oakwood, Wes Retherford of Hamilton, Nino Vitale of Urbana, and Paul Zeltwanger of Mason.
Miamisburg Republican Niraj Antani initially supported Thompson but switched to Hughes in later voting rounds. Householder did the same.