Last Tuesday’s primary election could have a big impact on who gets elected by state lawmakers to be the House speaker this week.
Even before former Speaker Cliff Rosenberger resigned in April amid questions swirling around him about an FBI inquiry, two candidates wanted to be the next speaker.
On one side, Finance Committee Chair Ryan Smith, who was backed by Rosenberger and the powerful House Republican caucus. On the other side, Larry Householder, a former speaker who returned to the Legislature in 2016 after a 12-year hiatus.
The Householder machine
In 11 open-primary GOP house races last Tuesday, there was a candidate backed by Smith and the caucus and another backed by Householder. And in in 10 of them, the candidate backed by Householder won. It doesn’t surprise Matt Borges, former Ohio Republican Party chair and a member of Householder’s team more than a decade ago.
“I’ve seen this act before. Larry Householder effectively stormed the castle about 18 years ago. I watched him and in many cases helped him do that all those years back and he hasn’t changed. He’s still a machine. And his political operation in Tuesday’s primary was incredibly impressive," Borges said.
Borges says Tuesday’s wins will make an impression on lawmakers when they consider who to elect leader of House Republicans Tuesday.
“That’s a very powerful message then to send to the remainder of the current caucus to say, 'Hey, it’s going to be me come January, so maybe you might want to think about getting on board now," Borges said.
Whoever will win the speakership will need some support from the minority party.
And one representative who won’t be on board is Democrat David Leland. He says it’s too early to decide leadership now, especially since lawmakers don’t have answers to questions that caused Rosenberger to resign.
“What were the priorities? What were the decisions being made? What were the issues that led to this resignation, this scandalous resignation? We don’t know and we don’t know who was involved and so some people would like to sweep this under the rug and have an election and say, 'Hey nothing really happened.’ I think the people of Ohio deserve to know the truth and deserve to know what really came down," Leland said.
There's still a November election
Leland wants the House to allow current Speaker Pro Tem Kirk Schuring to continue in that role on a temporary basis while lawmakers push for more information about issues that have arisen during the FBI inquiry that could involve additional house members. Besides, Leland says, there’s no guarantee the Householder candidates are still going to be in the mix come January of next year.
“Those people who got elected for Team Householder still have to win the election in November and so if they don’t win in November, the fact that they won primaries on May 8th is irrelevant. So we are hoping the Democrats will win a number of those seats and we will have new Democratic members in the House," Leland said.
Democrats would need to win 17 seats to take control of the House, and that seems unlikely. But big wins by Democrats in November could affect the ease by which Republicans could pass items on their agenda. As for the upcoming speaker election, the House could decide to elect someone as a short term speaker to get through the end of this year. Or lawmakers could elect a speaker who intends to continue the role in 2019.