Next week, Ohio House members are scheduled to return to Columbus. It can’t happen soon enough.
Relatively little has been accomplished in the House chamber since April 12, the day when Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, formally resigned.
Rosenberger’s departure came after it was revealed he was being investigated by the FBI for alleged inappropriate travel contacts with associates of the payday lending industry.
In Ohio politics, the speaker is the most powerful member of the chamber, and third in line to the office of the governor. Without a speaker, the House can’t pass any bills.
Rosenberger’s sudden exit left the House in disarray.
Since then, no Republican House member has been able to collect the minimum 50 votes needed to succeed Rosenberger and serve at least until January, when the next legislative session begins.
House Finance Chairman Ryan Smith, R-Gallipolis, is the most likely to emerge, but received 47 votes during a caucus election earlier this week. Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, is also seeking the position, but has far less support.
After seven weeks of inactivity, many lawmakers are feeling pressure from constituents to get back to work. Rightfully so. A significant backlog of legislation awaits.
Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, has been serving as the acting speaker, but as second in charge has limited authority to conduct all the duties of speaker, unless the House rules would be changed.
On Tuesday, Schuring gave House members two options and until 5 p.m. today to decide how the House will proceed on June 6.
They can vote on the two existing candidates to succeed Rosenberger — Smith or Thompson — or else can amend the rules so Schuring can serve as speaker for the remainder of the year.
Schuring deserves credit for getting the ball rolling. But jockeying for the position will likely continue up to and beyond the deadline.
While Smith is calling for an immediate vote, Democrats are preparing to offer their own candidate for speaker, Rep. Fred Strahorn, Dayton, if a full House vote is allowed.
Meanwhile, Rep. Larry Householder, R-Glenford, remains interested in the speaker’s position and is said to be working hard behind the scenes to secure it. However, he may not have the support he needs until after the general election.
The power struggle over the speaker spot is politics at its best and worst, and would be entertaining if there wasn’t so much to do before year’s end, including approving a long-delayed payday lending reform bill. The disfunction serves neither party.
The best option for the House next week will be to elevate Rep. Smith to speaker and get back to work, and then let the chips fall where they may after November.