A growing chorus of elected officials on Wednesday called on Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger to resign immediately rather than wait until May 1, as he said he would do when he announced late Tuesday his intention to step down.
Republican gubernatorial candidates Mike DeWine and Mary Taylor, along with state Auditor Dave Yost, have all said Rosenberger should step aside now.
But Democrat Richard Cordray said it was “highly inappropriate” for DeWine, currently Ohio’s attorney general, to call Rosenberger in the middle of a federal investigation and the exchange should be investigated.
Cordray said Wednesday that DeWine apparently used the call to advise Rosenberger on “how he should handle himself in that investigation.”
At issue is a call DeWine made to Rosenberger Friday after reading the lawmaker had hired a lawyer amid FBI questioning.
DeWine said Wednesday he called Rosenberger and urged him to resign “out of concern” as a party leader. He said he had no inside information on any investigation.
Rosenberger, who faced term limits in January, resigned Tuesday , effective May 1. DeWine says Rosenberger shouldn’t wait.
Rosenberger’s decision to announce his resignation came amid reports of an FBI investigation. Details have been scarce, but some sources say the investigation involves travel taken by Rosenberger and paid for by others, among other issues. Rosenberger denied any wrongdoing.
Highland County Republican Party Chair Paulette Donley said Wednesday that Rosenberger’s resignation was “a surprise.”
“It brought sadness to many of us here in the county and in the party,” she said, adding, “time will tell what the truth is. We should make no rush to judgment.”
Donley said she appreciated what Rosenberger had done for his district, which includes Highland, Clinton, Pike and part of Ross counties. But for now, she said her reaction is “shock, surprise and sadness.”
The reverberations from the events surrounding Rosenberger were being felt in local races. Two Republicans are seeking to win the party nomination for Rosenberger’s 91st District seat, and one of them Shane Wilkin, a Highland County commissioner, issued a statement Wednesday aimed at his opponent, Clinton County businesswoman Beth Ellis, and the support she has received from Rosenberger.
Wilkin said Ellis has benefited from funds from the Ohio House Republican Organizational Committee, controlled by Rosenberger, adding, “Accepting any further assistance from either Speaker Rosenberger or OHROC would be irresponsible by any candidate in Ohio until the FBI investigation is complete.”
Wilkin said, “This is precisely why I said when I announced my candidacy that the people of the 91st District should be choosing their next representative and not those sitting in Columbus.” He added, “My team and I will continue to bring our positive message, listen and work hard and earn the confidence and support of those that live and work in the 91st district.”
Ellis said Wednesday the news about Rosenberger was “disheartening,” and that OHROC is a respected organization. She denounced what she said was an increasingly negative campaign against her.
“It is disheartening to hear the news about Speaker Rosenberger, who has served the 91st district and its people well,” said Ellis. “The end game will rest within the facts with the conclusion of the alleged investigation.”
Ellis said OHROC “is the legitimate and well respected conservative organization that I and many candidates across the state turn to early in campaigns for protocol, education, etiquette and insight about the General Election and to address concerns about primary elections. It focuses on maintaining the majority in the Ohio House to continue the progress in the state. It has not, nor will it run negative ads on my behalf.”
Ellis said she was disappointed to see negative ads being directed at her “from in and out of state supporting my opponent.” She said she denounced them.
“I hope and pray the people across this district will see through the rhetoric and look for the substance,” said Ellis. “My eyes are cast forward, and I am working with laser focus on the issues pertaining to our communities to provide the educated and prepared representative they deserve, should I be elected to office.”