Wilkin waits as House limps toward speaker vote

Staff and wire reports



House Republicans in Ohio again brought their decision on the successor to former House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) to a halt, calling off a scheduled vote that’s needed before any more laws can be made.

The official reason for canceling Tuesday’s vote on an interim speaker was too few lawmakers could attend.

Among other issues, the impasse was another setback in the plan to seat Highland County Commissioner Shane Wilkin in the House to fill the remainder of Rosenberger’s term, after Rosenberger resigned under the cloud of an apparent FBI investigation. The issue of filling the void in the speaker’s chair left by Rosenberger’s resignation is separate from filling his position as representative from the 91st District, which is what Wilkin is slated to do.

Wilkin told The Times-Gazette on Tuesday he was following the developments. He said he was not planning to go to Columbus again until it was certain that lawmakers had their business in order and his swearing-in was certain, after going through a situation last week where he was originally told he would be administered the oath of office, only to see those plans fall through.

Democrats had challenged Tuesday’s session as improper, and raised the possibility that all the bills passed under a speaker selected in violation of the rules could be jeopardized.

State Rep. David Leland, a Columbus Democrat, said the date was added to the House calendar by the chamber’s acting leader, President Pro Tem Kirk Schuring, while House rules say only the speaker has that power.

Schuring’s spokesman, Brad Miller, dismissed that argument.

“Throughout the course of (Monday) afternoon, it became apparent that members would not be able to attend (Tuesday’s) session,” he said in an email. “Therefore, the decision was made to move the vote to elect a speaker to the following, previously scheduled session day,” which is Wednesday.

A lineup of high-powered business groups is urging the Ohio House to act quickly to name a new speaker.

In a letter dated Monday, leaders of six groups said the “distracting controversy” over picking a replacement for Rosenberger is impeding progress in the state.

Groups signing onto the letter were the National Federation of Independent Business-Ohio, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Business Roundtable, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.

Filling the void in the speaker’s office left by Rosenberger’s unusual mid-session resignation in April has been a rocky process. The Clarksville Republican resigned amid FBI questioning surrounding his international travel and lavish lifestyle, saying he had broken no laws but knew the process would take time and be a distraction.

Members of the Republican caucus he formerly led met last week to select a person to fill Rosenberger’s speaker role through the end of the year — but they couldn’t come to an agreement. None of the three candidates vying to fill Rosenberger’s unexpired term as speaker could secure the 50 votes needed, despite hours of negotiations.

Those issues are separate from filling Rosenberger’s term as a state representative, which is what Wilkin hopes to do. Prior to the primary, House GOP caucus members had said that the winner of the May GOP primary between Wilkin and Clinton County businesswoman Beth Ellis would immediately be appointed to fill Rosenberger’s 91st House District seat, but the inability to agree on a speaker has put those plans on hold.

Miller said Monday that Republican state Rep. Ryan Smith, chair of the powerful Finance Committee, had the necessary support, which was why Tuesday’s session was called. He noted a speaker election “must occur before any legislation is voted on by the chamber.”

Smith, of Gallia, was vying for the interim speakership, which lasts through year’s end, along with Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, of Marysville, and state Rep. Andy Thompson, of Marietta.

Both rival lawmakers pitched themselves as neutral placeholders who could restore normalcy and integrity to the chamber after Rosenberger’s resignation and a string of bad headlines related to sexual misconduct by members put a cloud over the House. Smith, who was Rosenberger’s hand-picked successor, had the most votes, but not enough, Schuring said then.

Smith’s ascension to the speakership now could position him handily in a brewing speaker fight for the full two-year session beginning in January against state Rep. Larry Householder, who formerly led the chamber. Householder helped elect nearly a dozen candidates in this month’s primary elections who are expected to support him when the next speaker vote comes in January.

Householder did not seek the interim post.


Staff and wire reports