COLUMBUS — The scandal-scarred Ohio House ended weeks of impasse on Wednesday and elected the favored successor to Republican former Speaker Cliff Rosenberger to lead the chamber through year's end.
House Finance Chairman Ryan Smith, a Gallia County Republican, prevailed after a dramatic 11 rounds of floor voting that saw a surprise last-minute candidate, shifting allegiances and occasional humor. Smith was unable to win the majority required to prevail in the first 10 rounds, instead winning on the 11th vote, which went to whichever candidate had the most votes.
The race to fulfill Rosenberger's unexpired term had led to a bitter standoff between Ryan and a faction led by former Speaker Larry Householder, also a Republican. Both want to be speaker next session. Householder didn't run Wednesday but supported two Smith opponents.
“I always wondered what it would feel like to go the distance in a prize fight,” Smith quipped after winning. “So I guess now I know.”
Democrats mostly supported their own caucus leader, Rep. Fred Strahorn, of Dayton, in Wednesday's voting and drew attention to the fact only 44 of 98 sitting representatives supported Smith.
“After 11 rounds of voting, Smith's unremarkable ascendancy proves only one thing: The dark cloud of Republican scandal and FBI investigation still hangs heavy over the Ohio House,” said Democratic Rep. David Leland, of Columbus.
Smith acknowledged the fractious political environment that contributed to the chamber's lengthy gridlock.
“I stand here today fully aware of the division that exists in our country and our state and, in some cases, divisions that exist within our own political parties,” he said.
He acknowledged that can lead to disagreements, but he said lawmakers should still display “dignity, common decency and respect.”
Republican Rep. Robert Cupp, a former state Supreme Court justice, delivered an eloquent floor speech nominating Smith, who he said has the qualities needed to get the House past Rosenberger's departure in April amid an FBI probe.
“Respectful, process-oriented, inclusive, accommodating, trustworthy and decisive, qualities we all value in a leader,” Cupp said. “This is what the lamp of experience has shown.”
Rosenberger resigned amid an FBI inquiry into his travel, his lavish lifestyle and a condo he rented from a wealthy GOP donor.
Federal agents searched his home and storage unit on May 23 in a probe that's believed to center on the money and influence behind his international travel and lavish lifestyle. Rosenberger says he has broken no laws.
Republicans and a handful of Democrats supported Smith over Householder's first choice, term-limited state Rep. Andy Thompson, and a surprise 11th-hour addition to the race, Columbus-area Rep. Jim Hughes, both Republicans.
Thompson, a conservative from Marietta, had pitched himself as a neutral placeholder who could restore normalcy and integrity to the chamber because he was term-limited and not a member of Rosenberger's leadership team. Householder supported Thompson in early voting and later switched his vote to Hughes.
Lawmaking in the state had been log-jammed for weeks as House Republicans sparred over who should succeed Rosenberger. Republican caucus members failed to agree on a replacement that could win the 50 votes required by No. 2 Rep. Kirk Schuring, who's been leading the chamber since Rosenberger left.
Rosenberger's departure left Schuring in charge of the chamber but unable under House rules to pass any bills. Among measures stalled as a result are payday lending regulations, money for voting machines and a proposal that would streamline access to hunting and fishing licenses.
Thompson, a publisher and former city councilman, made his pitch to fellow Republicans using a Beatles comparison. He told caucus members he'd follow the House's fractious “Let It Be” period under Rosenberger with a transcendent “Abbey Road” finish. The iconic rockers were notoriously divided while recording “Let It Be,” recorded before but released after “Abbey Road,” considered one of the band's greatest albums.
Hughes’ candidacy emerged from the floor Wednesday. A former prosecutor, he is a freshman House member this term but is a longtime politician, having served in the House in the early 2000s and in the state Senate later.
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