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House Republicans struggle to select speaker

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    Rep. Ryan Smith (R., Gallipolis).

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    In this June 28, 2016, file photo, Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger marks the passage of legislation to rename Port Columbus International Airport to John Glenn Columbus International Airport.

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COLUMBUS — Ohio House Republicans on Tuesday struggled to come up with the chamber’s next speaker — someone they must be confident could get at least 50 votes on the floor.

The leading candidate was state Rep. Ryan Smith (R., Gallipolis), chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee, but with three candidates in the running, he had not reached 50 GOP votes.

This decision is being forced now because of last month's abrupt resignation of then Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R., Clarksville) after he learned that the FBI was asking questions about overseas travel with ties to major players in the payday lending industry.

State Rep. Kirk Schuring (R., Canton), Mr. Rosenberger’s second-in-command, has been acting as speaker in the interim.

Mr. Smith, 45, and state Rep. Larry Householder (R., Glenford), 59, who served as speaker from 2001 to 2004, both want the permanent gig that will begin in 2019. Mr. Householder opted not to seek the interim post, leaving Mr. Smith in competition with Reps. Dorothy Pelanda (R., Marysville) and Andy Thompson (R., Marietta), neither of whom would be candidates for the permanent job after the Nov. 8 election.

Mr. Schuring said a single vote was taken in which Mr. Smith had the most votes. There was an objection when an attempt was made to approve Mr. Smith by a voice vote. A show of hands was then taken as to which members would not vote for him on the floor, prompting Mr. Schuring to say the caucus is “very close” but still shy of having the support of 50 Republicans in a chamber that now numbers 98 members.

There is no intention to ask Democrats to help a candidate get to 50 votes.

“I am a big personal believer in bipartisanship, but I also know how this institution functions, and that’s by a majority caucus ruling,” he said. “I have to stay true to that. ... This institution has always been run by the majority caucus.”

The caucus recessed without a final decision. 

Meanwhile, the battle over filling the permanent position beginning in 2019 continues.

“We don’t know who will end up in charge,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said. “Both camps are badly tainted by scandal, and we still have no idea who else was involved in the Rosenberger shenanigans, let alone Chartergate. Whatever happens, it’s fair to say that The Who got it right when they said, ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.’”

Mr. Householder was forced from the chamber in 2004 by term limits. He returned last year and has been working to reclaim the speaker’s gavel ever since.

He took significant steps in that direction in last week’s primary election for House seats as candidates aligned with him won the party’s nominations in head-to-head contests with those supporting Mr. Smith. That suggests Mr. Householder may eventually have the numbers to be elected speaker once new members of the chamber take office in January.

Meanwhile, Mr. Rosenberger on Tuesday filed his financial disclosure report with the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee, reporting about $40,000 over the last year in travel financed by others. The biggest spenders were his campaign committee, the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, and Columbus 20/20.

Contact Jim Provance at jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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