State Rep. Ryan Smith (R-93rd Dist.) became interim speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives on Wednesday, after receiving a plurality of votes on the 11th ballot.
The election of a speaker means Highland County Commissioner Shane Wilkin will likely be sworn into office as the representative from the 91st House District either as early as Thursday or as late as June 20.
Wilkin said Wednesday he spoke with Smith recently. Wilkin might travel to Columbus Thursday to be sworn in, or that event could wait until June 20, when Smith indicated he would next reconvene a House session after finishing business this week.
Wilkin presided over Wednesday’s meeting of the commissioners, recessing the meeting rather than adjourning it so the session could be reconvened Thursday morning in order for Wilkin to resign his commission post if necessary.
When Wilkin resigns from the commission, the Highland County Republican Party will choose a successor to serve on the county commission through the remainder of the year. A special election will be added to the regular November election, with a Republican and Democrat appointed by the respective local parties facing off. There will be no primary election process.
Unaffiliated candidates have 10 days from Wilkin’s resignation from the commission to file petitions to be on the November ballot. Steve Witham, county election administrator, said 103 names are needed on petitions from unaffiliated candidates.
When he is seated in Columbus, Wilkin will replace Cliff Rosenberger, who resigned his 91st District seat — and his post as speaker of the House — in April under the cloud of an FBI investigation. House Republicans at first said that the winner of the May 8 GOP primary between Wilkin and Clinton County businesswoman Beth Ellis would be sworn-in immediately to replace Rosenberger, but the House’s failure to elect a new speaker put those plans on hold.
Wilkin will face Democrat Justin Grimes and unaffiliated candidate Todd May, both of Clinton County, in November to serve a full two-year term in the House beginning in January.
Smith could not muster the majority of votes normally required to win the speakership, but under the law a plurality is all that was needed after 11 rounds. Smith won 44 votes from the 91 members on hand Wednesday, two shy of a majority of those voting.
The win to fulfill Rosenberger’s unexpired term could better position Ryan in the brewing speaker fight against Republican former Speaker Larry Householder for next session.
In nominating Smith, Republican Rep. Robert Cupp, a former state Supreme Court justice, said he had the track record to lead.
“Respectful, process-oriented, inclusive, accommodating, trustworthy and decisive, qualities we all value in a leader,” Cupp said. “This is what the lamp of experience has shown.”
Speakers hold powerful sway over which bills are advanced into law in the state and which ones die unceremonious deaths.
After his win, Smith, of Gallia County, called on House members to conduct themselves with respect and “common decency.”
Lawmakers supported Smith over Householder’s choice, term-limited state Rep. Andy Thompson, and a surprise 11th-hour addition to the race, Columbus-area Rep. Jim Hughes, both Republicans. Thompson, a conservative from Marietta, pitched himself as a neutral placeholder who could restore normalcy and integrity to the chamber following Rosenberger’s sudden departure. Householder supported Thompson in early voting and later switched his vote to Hughes.
Republican caucus members had failed to agree on a replacement that could win the 50 votes required by No. 2 Rep. Kirk Schuring, who’s been leading the chamber since Rosenberger’s departure.
Lawmaking in the state had been at a standstill for weeks, as House Republicans sparred over who should succeed Rosenberger.
Rosenberger’s departure left Schuring in charge of the chamber but unable under House rules to pass any bills. Among measures stalled as a result are payday lending regulations, money for voting machines and a proposal that would streamline access to hunting and fishing licenses.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456, or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary. The Associated Press contributed to this story.