COLUMBUS (WCMH) -- For weeks the Ohio House of Representatives has been in utter disarray. The resignation of the former Speaker of the House has thrown everything into upheaval and set off a powder keg of dysfunction in the Republican House Caucus.
Members are divided over who should replace the Speaker of the House and it isn’t policy that is causing the rift. It is money, which really isn’t all that surprising, is it?
Whoever becomes Speaker of the House controls millions of dollars in fundraised money meant to help caucus members run their re-election campaigns for the fall election.
The goal of the fund is to make sure that incumbents continue to win. The money isn’t used for charity, or to make life better for another human being--at least not directly. It’s used to pay for the services needed so you vote for them again.
This is nothing new; it is employed by both parties and has been for a long time.
What makes this particular situation significant, however, is the person in charge in this equation.
As you may or may not know, State Representatives Ryan Smith and Larry Householder have been at odds over who will be Speaker of the House next General Assembly, which starts in January.
Both men want the job, neither is backing down, and things were already at the level of "ugly" a while ago.
During the months leading up to the Primary election in May, PACs spent money to discredit representatives who were not Householder picks and were labeled as Smith picks.
As a result, most of Householder picks won their elections while the "Smith picks" lost theirs.
Householder, a previous Speaker of the House from over a decade ago, recently came back to the Statehouse. Smith has been here for a while and prior to the start of this General Assembly was in line to be the next speaker.
Now their rivalry has fractured the party caucus. Unable to come to a consensus, Rep. Kirk Schuring, the Speaker Pro Tempore, has been unwilling to call for a vote to fill the vacancy. He has canceled every session where a vote could have been called for weeks now.
Smith, who has a large amount of support but not a majority, wants the vote to happen now.
The faction of Republicans who have ‘splintered off,’ as described by Smith, are backing Andy Thompson--who may or may not have been hand-picked by Householder.
Democrats, in the meantime, are letting the Republicans flail about in their own mess. They, for the most part, are coalescing around the Minority Leader Rep. Fred Strahorn as their nominee for Speaker. It is unlikely he will actually receive enough votes to win.
But even the Democrats may be experiencing a lack of unity.
State Representative Bernadine Kennedy Kent crossed the aisle on her own Wednesday and openly supported Republican Ryan Smith for Speaker, and urged that she is ready to vote as soon as possible.
Kennedy Kent has an ongoing feud of her own with members of the Democratic Party and the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus. To say she is no fan of Rep. Strahorn may be an understatement.
As the legislative process continues to devolve and add to the already extensive backlog of work that isn’t getting done, efforts were made to try and resolve the matter quietly.
Late last week, Ohio State Republican Party Chair Jane Timken wanted Smith and Householder to come to a meeting with herself and Schuring to bury the hatchet, according to Schuring.
Smith was a no show, and it depends on who you ask or which response you get from Smith as to why.
“[Schuring] didn’t invite me to the meeting. I didn’t know about the meeting, other than chair Timken wanting me to come to a meeting with somebody who didn’t have the courage to put their name in to be Speaker of the House,” said Smith. “I would have happily discussed this with Andy Thompson, as I have, or Dorothy Pelanda; but I’m not coming to an outside party to help us solve a problem with somebody who is being obstinate in this process.”
Smith’s obstinate refusal to meet, was followed by this week’s cancelation of the next opportunity to vote for a Speaker of the House, and Schuring putting forth his Option A/Option B plan.
Wednesday, Smith and more than two dozen lawmakers demanded an immediate vote for a new Speaker, and by immediate Smith meant Thursday.
Less than an hour later, Schuring adjourned sessions until Monday morning effectively putting the kibosh on that happening.
When asked why not just take the vote tomorrow, Schuring said, “Why would I change the plan I put forth yesterday where I said, ‘okay everyone, choose; Plan A or Plan B,’ and then one day later say, ‘okay, now I’m gonna abandon that? There’s a plan, I think it’s a fair plan, I think it’s a plan that’s inclusive that allows all the members of the House to participate either individually or by their caucus, whatever the case might be, and I know at the end of the day because of this plan we’ll be in session next week.”
Plan A would be to move forward with a vote for a new Speaker under current House Rules.
Plan B would be to vote to change the House Rules so that the Speaker Pro Tempore, in this case Schuring, would take on the duties of the Speaker of the House.
Householder backs Plan B, which isn’t all that surprising since it keeps Smith out of the Speakership and denies him the ability to use it as an incumbent would next year; but that’s neither here nor there.
In a written statement released today, Householder says Plan B is the least divisive of the options.
"The House Rule which allows the Speaker Pro Tempore to execute the duties of the Speaker in the event of absence certainly was intended to include vacancy. However there are those who want to define the word "absence" in its most literal form. A simple clarification of the rule to add the word "vacancy" would be the easiest, quickest and least divisive path in order for the House to return to voting sessions and get the legislative calendar back on track. This is not a time for grandstanding or further dividing an already divisive body. I ask for all statesman to put people over politics and make an elementary rule correction, clarify the true intent and move on with the People's work"
But remember, this is only partially about the “People’s work.”
Yes, there are a number of bills that are just sitting there, stuck in this quagmire, that could be helping Ohians.
But this is also about the money, and who controls it.
As previously mentioned, the winner of this Speakership will have control of that money and who gets how much of it.
With both Smith and Householder still needing to win in the fall, not to mention many of the Republican members of the House of Representatives who want to keep their seats and have been forced to cast their lots for one side or the other, it remains to be seen how generous the next Speaker will be.
Householder is in what is called a safe district, easily and typically won by Republicans, but not everyone loyal to him is, and the same can be said for Smith.
If a Householder proxy wins, can Smith expect the same level of assistance?
Either way, we are all about to find out what happens next.
According to Schuring, voting will occur a week from today, and one way or another we will have a resolution to the legislative log jam.
By the way, none of them seem to be willing to commit to a hard and fast date for how far they will push back their summer break.
When asked both Schuring and Smith said that would depend, and went on to provide qualifiers.
Still they both seem committed to staying for some time to “deal with the backlog” of bills, but instead of saying they were going to completely catch up they left it open to getting done the bills their caucus wanted to accomplish.
With nearly 100 bills waiting to be voted on it is unlikely they will clear the board. They do have vacations and campaigning to get to.