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Democrats Help Householder to Speakership Victory

A photo of Ryan Smith, left, and Larry Householder, right.
Larry Householder (R-Glenford), right, defeated Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) to become speaker of the Ohio House

The new speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives is a familiar face who has served in the role before. To win the job this time, Republican Larry Householder needed the support of as many Democratic representatives as fellow Republicans. 

Householder joked a bit as he took his spot in front of the House. “Either over the last 18 years, this dais has gotten smaller or I have gotten larger.” And then he got serious. “This is a very divisive time and I guess I would like to say is I would like to call Ryan Smith up here if I could.”

Smith, who has served as house speaker since June after former speaker Cliff Rosenberger resigned amid an FBI investigation, was greeted with applause as Householder, after admitting he and Smith hadn’t been the best of friends during their behind-the-scenes battle, called Smith up to the dais.

“Well, I look forward to serving the 133rd. This has been the greatest honor of my life to be the speaker or just to be state representative,” Smith said. 

photo of Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder
Larry Householder speaks to legislators after winning the contentious battle to be the next Speaker of the Ohio House.

Householder then called Fred Strahorn, Democratic Minority Leader, to join him. Householder pledged to work across the aisle. One thing Householder will have to deal with is a claim filed by a legislative staffer who says she has been the target of sexual and racial discrimination. Marissa Reyes has filed a complaint and a house caucus employee says the matter is under investigation. Householder says his two staffers are not involved but he says he’ll look into the situation. And he plans to hire a human resources professional to deal with issues like this.

“We want to make sure we have a professional HR department to address these issues, make sure the people are treated fairly and someone who is professional that members and staff can go to,” he said.

Householder also wants committee meetings to be televised so the public can watch lawmakers conduct hearings. He says he also wants to allow Democrats to co-chair some new subcommittees involving education, criminal justice and energy. And Householder pledges Democrats will get more say in the legislative process by allowing discussion on all proposed amendments. Householder says it’s all part of restoring the House to the great state it was in when he left it 14 years ago. “This House has went through some very tough times during the past four years and we have a lot of work to do to make sure we put this house in order.”

Householder says his first order of business is the state budget and school funding.

In the tight speaker race, it was minority Democrats who tipped the scales for Householder, making up half of the 52 votes in his favor. Democratic supporters say Householder promised to push a pro-labor agenda and bring more transparency to the process.

But Minority Leader Fred Strahorn disagreed that his caucus played a role in the speaker fight. "Everybody’s gonna have to own their vote today and if we get down the road and people are dissatisfied with the ways things are going and the issues that we have to deal with -- and they do get pushed through -- they’re gonna have to own that and they’re gonna have to own that with their constituents,” Strahorn said.

However, longtime Democratic Representative Jack Cera of southeast Ohio says they were able to negotiate with Householder for the things they wanted. He says Householder promised to make sure measures to restrict workers from forming unions aren’t pushed through – even though some Republicans who voted for Householder have backed those kinds of bills before.

Cera was asked if he and other Democrats who voted for Householder are at all concerned they’ll have to be held accountable for whatever controversial measures Householder does move forward, such as the “Heartbeat Bill” which bans abortions as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy. “You know you’re not going to stop those. I mean – I told this to our caucus – the fact remains the Republicans still have 61 votes, we have 38. So there are still things that are going to come up but I think hopefully we can maybe not be voting on four or five every session which I think will be a good thing for us.”

Householder’s surprising win meant a delay in the rest of the leadership votes, including the expected re-election of Strahorn as minority leader.