With the help of two dozen Democrats, Perry County Republican Larry Householder staged a dramatic return to political power, capturing the Ohio House speaker post on a 52-46 floor vote on Monday.
Householder, who held the speaker’s gavel from 2001 to 2004, became the first Ohioan in roughly six decades to recapture the position, according to Ohio Politics Almanac. He did so by helping elect key Republican supporters into legislative seats and wooing Democrats in the House Minority with promises of more bipartisanship.
“This has been a very divisive time, there is no doubt about that,” Householder said, in calling his rival Bidwell Republican Ryan Smith and House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, to join him on the dias.
“I will make my pledge to both of these gentlemen that I will work with them,” Householder said. He pledged to take a bipartisan approach, work to return Ohio to greatness, hire a professional human resources officer for the House and broadcast committee meetings online.
He also pledged to create standing subcommittees on primary education, criminal sentencing reform and energy generation — and name Democrats and Republicans as co-chairs.
Speaker is one of the most powerful political posts in state government. He has the power to block or move legislation and has a major say in how the state spends more than $140 billion, regulates massive industries and operates government functions such as education, criminal justice and Medicaid.
Under Householder’s leadership 15 years ago, Republican lawmakers passed Ohio’s first concealed weapons law, embraced medical malpractice and tort reforms that capped pain-and-suffering awards for victims, and adopted a state law to make sure Ohio never recognizes same-sex civil unions or marriages – a law later negated by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2015.
Householder, however, left the Ohio House, forced out by term limits and hounded by allegations of political corruption. In 2006, the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice announced that its investigation concluded with no charges being filed. Householder returned to the Ohio House in 2017.
Smith won the speaker job in June to the last seven months of 2018 after Clarksville Republican Cliff Rosenberger abruptly resigned in April amid an FBI investigation. Federal agents raided Rosenberger’s home and storage unit May 23. No charges have been filed and Rosenberger has maintained that his actions as speaker were lawful and ethical.
Over the weekend, Marissa Reyes, a Republican legislative aide, wrote to state Rep. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, who represents Reyes’ in the House. Reyes described racist and sexist behavior by three lawmakers who have been Householder supporters.
“It never occurred to me that at such a prestigious institution, my dark hair and olive complexion would subject me to such unwarranted racist and sexist behavior,” she wrote in the letter, which was later posted to Twitter.
She said former state representative Wes Retherford was drinking heavily at a House Christmas party held at Club 185 bar and told Reyes that he would “prefer to see me with my dress off.”
A message was left with Retherford seeking a response to the allegation.
Reyes said in her letter that she reported the behavior but she wanted to make sure Democrats knew of it before voting whether to back Householder.
Householder said he would have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to harassment and unprofessional behavior. He noted that the allegation was reported months ago and he assumed it had been handled.
Democrats, led by Strahorn, hold 38 of 99 seats in the Ohio House. They sat out the last speaker fight, opting to vote for Strahorn for speaker in June. This time around, though, labor unions urged Democrats to support Householder because they believe Householder would not seek a so-called ‘Right to Work’ law that weakens organized labor.
Miami Valley lawmakers who voted for Householder were: Niraj Antani, John Becker, Jim Butler, Sara Carruthers, Phil Plummer, Jena Powell, Nino Vitale and Paul Zeltwanger.
Those voting for Smith were: Tom Brinkman, Bill Dean, Candice Keller, Kyle Koehler, George Lang, Scott Lipps, Rick Perales and Strahorn.