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New Ohio House Speaker Chosen

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Ohio Public Radio
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After two months of impasse, the Ohio House has a new Speaker. 

It was an unusual vote because  majority Republicans couldn’t agree on a nominee. The vote ends an impasse that stopped sessions in mid April when Cliff Rosenberger resigned amid an FBI probe of his activities with payday lending lobbyists. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles has details. 

The process to end the showdown over who would be Speaker was unprecedented. House Clerk Brad Young sounded more like an auctioneer as he took vote after vote after vote.

 (sound of Brad taking the vote and continuing to roll the vote under the next voicetrak)

 

For nearly three hours, Young rattled off names as members voted individually, putting into practice a rule that had never been used before. As expected, Finance Committee chair Ryan Smith was nominated, as was Democratic Minority Leader Fred Strahorn. Joining them was Andy Thompson, a term limited Republican who had come in second to Smith in closed-door Republican caucus voting a few weeks ago. Smith had called Thompson a “proxy” for Larry Householder, the former Speaker who wants to regain that position next year, but was not in the running for the short-term Speaker position.

 

And there was also a surprise entry into the contest – another term limited Republican, Jim Hughes. With 91 of 98 members present, a candidate needed 46 votes to win outright. But after the first round, none of the candidates had the 46 votes needed to constitute a majority. So that meant the House had to vote nine more times before it could accept the candidate with the most votes. In round after round, Smith led consistently…..with 44 votes. Thompson and Hughes saw their votes vacillate back and forth while most Democrats voted as they said they would, for Strahorn. Lawmakers tried to break the monotony as they cast their votes.

 

Young “Representative Cera”

Cera “The illustrious Fred Strahorn”

Young “Representative Becker”

Becker “The timeless Andy Thompson”

Young “Representative Cera”

Cera “The bearded Fred Strahorn”

Young “Representative Becker”

Becker “Thompson to infinity and beyond”

 

The hours of repeated voting may have felt like infinity to lawmakers and those watching in the gallery. At one point there was a call for a recess by Republican Niraj Antani, who’d been casting votes for Hughes, but that was quickly shouted down. After 11 rounds of voting, Acting Speaker Kirk Schuring made this announcement.

 

“Having received a plurality of all of the votes cast, Representative Smith is hereby declared elected Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives.”

 

Immediately after that, Smith was sworn in and took the dais. He called for unity after weeks of behind the scenes wrangling, and he is facing a House with fewer than half of its members casting votes for him. He reiterated the need to come together when talking to reporters afterward. When asked whether he would remove committee chairs who voted against him for Speaker, Smith didn’t hesitate in his answer.

 

“I’m not looking to be retaliatory about that. I mean we live in a society where people can make their own choices. I think, at this point, I’m going to bring everybody back together and ask for a clean slate and start to rebuild trust.”

 

Smith said he wants the House to take up legislation immediately, including bills that crack down on payday lending and fund new voting machines. There are more than 150 bills awaiting action, and Smith anticipates there will be a few more House sessions before summer recess when members can do that.

Though the minority leader had most of his 33 member caucus supporting him throughout the voting, Strahorn said he was disgusted that it had come down to using this process to choose a new speaker.

 

“I thought hearing my name 308 times was a little disturbing and the process was like watching grass grow.”

 

And though critics may say Democrats could have broken the stalemate, Strahorn says he’s proud that they voted for him as a candidate that supports their issues and concerns.  And Democrats are likely to use this incident as an illustration of Republican government gone awry.

 

Much of the debate between the Republicans came down to two factions within the caucus…..those who wanted Smith….and others who back Householder. They wanted someone else who was term limited to hold that seat so Smith wouldn’t have an upper hand in being elected speaker when the new general assembly takes over next year. And then there’s the matter of the $4 million sitting in the Ohio House campaign fund. As speaker, Smith now has a big say in how that money is dispersed.

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