COLUMBUS — Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon), the No. 2 Democrat in the Ohio House, will walk away from the Statehouse and the Toledo area to take a job advocating for skilled construction trades.
The 39-year-old law partner, who specializes in labor issues such as prevailing wage, arbitration, and unemployment compensation, still has more than a year and a half left in his current term. Term limits, however, bar him from seeking another two-year term in 2014.
He’s taking the executive director position at the new Affiliated Construction Trades of Ohio, funded by several skilled trades groups. It was created more than a year ago, but the funding has just fallen into place.
The job with ACT Ohio will mean leaving his Toledo law firm and relocating his wife and three children to the Columbus area.
“There are dozens upon dozens of issues to work on in terms of helping the public better understand the issues facing the industry,” Mr. Szollosi said. “Certainly, there will be a strong marketing and advertising component to the position. I’m going to be able to apply my 16 years of experience in construction-related litigation and certainly my knowledge of state government and how it works.”
A former Oregon city councilman, Mr. Szollosi moved up the leadership ladder quickly among Ohio House Democrats, boosted by his prolific fund-raising. He became assistant minority leader after just one two-year term.
For one two-year session beginning in 2009, Mr. Szollosi was the second-highest-ranking lawmaker in the entire House when Democrats briefly took the majority and Minority Leader Armond Budish (D., Beachwood) ascended to speaker.
A House Democratic committee will screen applicants for appointment to complete Mr. Szollosi’s term.
The Democratic-leaning 46th District stretches from Jerusalem Township and Oregon east of Toledo through parts of East and South Toledo to pick up Maumee, Holland, and Springfield Township to the west.
“It’s very winnable,” said Lucas County Republican Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook. “Matt was a very good state representative who worked with both sides and was somebody who reached across the aisle. … Democrats would be hard-pressed to come up with somebody of that caliber to replace him and hold the seat.”
Not so fast, said Lucas County Democratic Party Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler.
“That area has been solidly Democratic for a long time,” he said. “Matt has laid the groundwork for the next person to follow and keep that seat.”
He said some discussions have been quietly taking place behind the scenes about who might be picked to replace him. He declined to offer any names.
“There will be a lot more discussion when people realize that Matt’s actually going,” Mr. Rothenbuhler said. “Very few people know that his house is up for sale.”
Mr. Szollosi has not set a firm date for his departure, as he was waiting to see how things developed in the state budget process.
“I’ve been working on a few things in the budget that I’m very passionate about, including the restoration of funding for the Toledo Public Schools and the Medicaid expansion,” he said.
He said he had to make a move quickly because the ACT Ohio job wouldn’t wait a year and a half.
“It’s an absolutely ideal situation, particularly for my family,” he said. “The most appealing aspect of this decision is not having to be away from [wife] Melanie and my three kids who are 7, 6, and 5.”
The move also means that Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), who represents the neighboring 45th District, has a decision to make.
When the dust settled from Republican-drawn redistricting in 2011, Ms. Fedor and Mr. Szollosi both found themselves residing in the revamped 46th.
Ms. Fedor opted to move and run instead in the new 45th District consisting of portions of North, East, and West Toledo; Washington Township, and one Toledo-surrounded precinct in Sylvania Township. Would she resign her current seat now to move back into Mr. Szollosi’s district to seek that appointment?
“I do have a home in this [46th] District,” she said. “I have a lot to think about.”
Lucas County Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter said he understands Mr. Szollosi’s decision.
“He has three little kids,” he said. “I thought he’d run for mayor. Then I thought he’d run maybe for attorney general. I’m a little surprised.”
He expressed reluctance, however, about seeking the appointment himself.
“It is my district,” he said. “I guess I would consider it, but I love being clerk of courts. I’m home. I’ve had projects I’ve been working on. … I hate leaving something I’m not finished with.”
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.