Republicans and Democrats at the Ohio Statehouse are in agreement over one thing: They’ve never seen anything like the events of this last week.
For six weeks, the Ohio House has been a rudderless ship. House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger resigned under a cloud of suspicion and accusations that he accepted lavish international trips paid for by lobbyists.
Instead of electing a replacement, House Republicans are enmeshed in an internal squabble that resulted in scheduled votes being cancelled three times last week. However, what really shook up the Statehouse in the last seven days happened a hundred miles away.
FBI agents conducted a surprise raid on Rosenberger’s Clinton County home, and raided and removed documents from a nearby storage shed and Rosenberger’s former state office at the same time. The FBI has said very little about what they are looking for, but the raids heightened speculation that criminal charges could be coming next.
“I don’t think somebody resigns that position because they’re not guilty of something,” said Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus). “I don’t think that happens. I don’t think they resign for no reason.”
Rosenberger’s sudden resignation last month was quickly followed by speculation that he is in trouble for his history of travel funded by lobbyists and use of a luxury condominium by a GOP donor. But not everyone thinks Rosenberger is guilty. His neighbors say they still believe in him.
“If he’s done anything wrong, it’s been a mistake,” said Herman Clark, a neighbor of Rosenberger. “I don’t think he’s done anything wrong on purpose and that’s just the way I feel about it.”
Whether or not Rosenberger has done something wrong, he has done something that left the House without a Speaker, something Democrats are voicing their concerns about.
“The work of the people is not being done,” Rep. Leland said. “It is being held hostage by the Rosenberger scandal and the FBI investigation and it is terribly frustrating to most of us.”
“We’re just dumbfounded,” said Rep. Fred Strathorn (D-Dayton). “We’ve never seen an episode anywhere near being this dysfunctional and chaotic in the House of Representatives.”
The vote for Speaker has been scheduled and cancelled over and over again. The GOP has not mustered enough votes for the Republican lobbying for the speakership, Ryan Smith (R-Centerville). Some say this is because of the lawmaker who wants to return as speaker in January, Larry Householder.
“I think that we have to rise above personalities, individual personalities and do what is good for the people, which is picking an interim speaker, right?” said Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg). “The citizenry does not want to play games, which is what’s happening, right?”
In the meantime, the House is in limbo with legislation aimed at payday lenders, ECOT and economic revitalization stalled.
“When we can’t come back and do this work, that’s not an abstract thing,” Rep. Strathorn said. “That’s real people, real jobs, real economic development that now can’t happen.”