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Why Can't the House Vote on a New Speaker?

photo of Ohio Statehouse

This week marked the second in a row without a voting session in the Ohio House. All sessions were canceled because majority Republicans cannot decide on a leader to replace former House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger. He resigned in April and is embroiled in an FBI investigation involving his associations with payday-lending lobbyists.

Cancellations and confusion
At issue is picking a speaker to serve until the end of the year. And when House Republicans voted last week, Finance Committee Chair Ryan Smith came up a few votes short of the 50 that acting Speaker Kirk Schuring said was needed to take a nominee to the floor. Another representative, Andy Thompson, has the backing of former House Speaker Larry Householder, and has pulled votes from a few representatives who said they wouldn’t support Smith.

Since that time, sessions have been canceled while Republicans fight this out behind closed doors. And meanwhile, Thompson says members are confused.

“It caught everybody off guard. I was in the Finance Committee, looking around, saying, 'Does anybody know what’s going on?’ So in some cases, this has been a top-down leadership style that we have seen in the Ohio House and that doesn’t instill confidence either," Thompson said.

Smith is frustrated too, saying he’s ready to go to the full House.

“I want to take the vote. Frankly, it’s time to take this vote. The people of Ohio deserve us to get on with our business and I believe I have the votes to be successful in this. One more thing. If the person who has the most to risk wants to take the vote, then why wouldn’t we take the vote?” Smith asked.

Fight for power
In an email, Schuring wrote that he wasn’t available for an interview. But some veterans of Capitol Square have their own answers to the question of why House sessions are being canceled in favor of not taking a vote for a new speaker. Democratic Rep. and former Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Leland says he suspects this is a fight over who will wield financial power in November’s election.

“All of this discussion is merely over who controls the $4 million that’s in the House Republican Party campaign account," Leland said.

Former Ohio Republican Party Chair Kevin DeWine says if his party wants to keep its majority in the House, leaders there had better make a decision on the speaker situation soon. And the person the caucus decides to back better focus on unity.

“These things leave scars and marks on people for a long, long time and as someone who came from the house and I did my eight years in the house, I’m sorry to see the caucus that I worked for, supported and was able to benefit from for so long going through this tough time," DeWine said.

House committees are still meeting and in some cases approving bills that will have to be voted on by the full House. Meanwhile, the Senate continues to vote on legislation but much of it is stalled if it needs House approval.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment. Jo started her career in Louisville, Kentucky in the mid 80’s when she helped produce a televised presidential debate for ABC News, worked for a creative services company and served as a general assignment report for a commercial radio station. In 1989, she returned back to her native Ohio to work at the WOSU Stations in Columbus where she began a long resume in public radio.