A look at the new Speaker of the Ohio House

Ohio Statehouse Newsroom

State Representative Ryan Smith is in the middle of his third term as an elected official serving as a lawmaker for the people of Gallia, Jackson, and portions of Lawrence and Vinton Counties.

He graduated from the Ohio State University with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Finance and has been the Chairman of the House Finance Committee for his last two terms.

Running the largest and arguably most important committee in the House, Smith has had to balance more than just the State’s bottom line but the egos, ambitions, needs, and desires of his colleagues in a way that allowed him to successfully bring forward budgets.

When interviewed on his area of expertise, Smith eloquently explained situations in a way that a layman could understand in a tone colored by a southeastern Ohio accent.

When asked to describe their colleague lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had good things to say about Smith.

During his nomination speech, State Representative Robert Cupp shared his thoughts on what Smith brings to the table.

“Respectful, process oriented, inclusive, accommodating, trust worthy, and decisive; qualities we all value in a leader,” said Cupp.

State Representative Nick Celebrezze doesn’t currently serve on any committees with Smith, but does recall when he did during his second term.

“He’s a well-educated guy; he’s a very personable guy; family man; and just, you know, overall a guy you can work with and works across the aisle,” said Celebrezze.

It seems that it would be hard not to like Smith, yet some may disagree; none that were willing to go on the record though when they were approached.

We have seen glimmers of what Smith can be like when he is frustrated and fired up.

A fiery disposition is usual carefully locked behind his calm if not welcoming demeanor.

Just a few weeks ago, when he found out an opportunity to vote for a new speaker had been canceled on the same day the FBI raided the home of Cliff Rosenberger, the former Speaker of the House. He was understandably upset that he received a phone call from him hometown Sheriff when media began calling to get confirmation of whether the FBI was also at his home.

Seeking such confirmation is standard practice when rumors are running rampant in order to avoid reporting inaccuracies, and a little bit of anger bled through his normally friendly interactions as he began a press conference to address the situation.

But that anger was quickly reigned in, and by the end of his time answering questions from the media, he was back to an even keel.

For a while now, it has been assumed that Smith would take a shot at succeeding Rosenberger as the next Speaker of the House when the new General Assembly begins in 2019.

But he wasn’t the only one with ambitions for holding that position, and as 2017 progressed it became more and more clear that he would likely have competition from fellow lawmaker Representative Larry Householder.

Householder is a former Speaker of the House from over a decade ago. He has been absent from the Statehouse for quite some time and left under a cloud of suspicion of his own which has since dissipated to a degree but hasn’t completely been forgotten especially by staff and others who were here the last time he was at the Statehouse.

Smith and Householder have been bitter rivals vying for the Speakership for most of this General Assembly, each trying to position themselves for the best shot at winning the seat in January.

This culminated in the Primary Election this may when candidates running in Republican races either received financial help from or negative campaign advertising against depending on who they would have supported to be Speaker next year, should they win the seat in November.

When the dust settled, Householder supporters have claimed that he came out ahead on that scorecard.

With the election results in, and Rosenberger out at this point, Smith threw his name into the ring to be the interim Speaker of the House while Householder did not due to not having as many supporters in the chamber as Smith currently does.

The next 6 weeks turned into chaos as Republicans loyal to Householder refused to support Smith’s bid for interim Speaker. This led to tense caucus meetings, according to one Republican, that included a good deal of yelling at points.

This all came to a head on Wednesday when the entire House of Representatives voted to choose a new Speaker of the House.

What would have taken a single vote, traditionally, was marred by 11 votes with no one receiving a majority of the votes in any one round.

With clear division in the majority party, Smith was named Speaker of the House after receiving more votes than any other nominee in the final round.

Still, Smith was in good spirits after the vote Wednesday despite a real sense of nervousness in some of his supporters when 19 of their Republican colleagues attempted usurp the Speakership at the last minute.

Smith supporters planned for three nominees in Wednesday’s vote. They, and the Democrats, were surprised when a fourth nominee was put forward; Representative Jim Hughes.

The move confused some at first, but the intent was quickly sniffed out by some lawmakers.

The 19 Republicans were attempting to lure the 28 Democrats voting for their nominee Representative Fred Strahorn over to Hughes.

Hughes gets along with just about everyone at the Statehouse and even sides with Democrats on some issues important to them, like Right to Work.

And this move might have worked if it hadn’t happened at the last minute, according to some Democrats.

Instead, it all went down on the day of the vote as Smith and his family patiently waited for the voting to be over so he could be sworn in a Speaker.

In an odd move, Representative Niraj Antani acted as negotiator moving between Householder and Democrats like Celebrezze.

Antani doesn’t exactly have the best reputation with Democrats and the choice to make him play such a role raised a few of their eyebrows.

What the exact deal was has not been revealed, and was made moot when Antani made a motion to recess during the vote for 20 minutes.

His motion failed and with it the plan to swing enough Democrats to their side and sweep the Speakership out of Smith’s grasp slipped away.

Afterward, Smith made it clear that despite the shenanigans he wanted to wipe the slate clean and start fresh.

He says he understands that he needs to rebuild trust that he has obviously lost with the 19 Republicans who did not back him.

He also said that retribution wasn’t his style, and that he has no plans to replace people in positions of power within the caucus that did not support him.

So far, Smith is sticking to that. In his first session as Speaker of the House, Smith treated everyone in the chamber with respect as he guided them through more than two dozen votes on items that saw bills heading to the Governor to become law.

Smith has also expressed a desire to work with lawmakers to develop a better idea of what needs to get done before they go on summer break in a few weeks, and has committed to returning to the Statehouse before the election in November if they need to.

All of this sets Smith up to show his leadership skills for the remaining six months of the General Assembly and may give him a leg up on Householder if he plans to take a shot at being Speaker next January.
Until then, you can rest assured that this rivalry is far from over. 

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