COLUMBUS — Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, likely will remain speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives when it opens a two-year term Jan. 7. But he'll need to mend fences in his caucus.
Smith beat Rep. Larry Householder, R-Glenford, in an informal speaker's election held Thursday, but Householder and 25 other House Republicans stayed away from the meeting. Thirty-four voted for Smith.
Now Smith says the next step is to reach out to those who weren't present Thursday.
"Out of the 26 remaining, I hope there's supporters in there that didn't make the vote today and there are other people who have said to me that if you have the majority behind you, I'm not going to fight the will of the caucus," Smith said.
The House speaker has tremendous power because he or she controls members' committee assignments and has great sway over which bills are taken up and which ones die.
Smith needs 50 votes to become speaker outright when the next legislature convenes. If nobody can achieve that through 10 votes, whoever gets the most of the 11th vote wins.
Thursday's action caps a six-month struggle to succeed former Republican Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, who resigned in June amid an FBI investigation. Smith was elected then to serve out this session as speaker on the 11th ballot.
The dean of the caucus — the longest-serving member — typically calls a meeting well before the start of a two-year legislative session so that incoming leaders can be informally selected and can start organizing. But the current Republican dean, Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, is a Householder supporter and has resisted calling such a meeting while Householder appeared to lack the votes that Smith had.
Like Householder, Butler was absent Thursday and the vote was called by Speaker Pro Tem Kirk Schuring, R-Jackson Township.
"In the matter of [Butler] not calling for the vote — a dereliction of duty of the dean — somebody needed to do that," Smith said.
There's nothing in the law or House rules that designates the dean as the person to call such organizational votes. Rather, it's a tradition to do so. However, Smith said Butler's intransigence forced the GOP caucus to set tradition aside.
"We moved forward because we needed to," he said. "This should have happened six weeks ago. We have tried to be patient in the caucus to allow this to play out, but we can't go into Jan. 7 not knowing who has the majority of votes."
But in a prepared statement, Butler refused to recognize Thursday's action.
"As I said in my earlier statement, the meeting today was nothing more than a Ryan Smith campaign event," it said. "To describe an illegitimate meeting of 34 people as anything else is quite a stretch when it takes 50 votes of the 99-member House to become speaker. The actual vote for the next speaker of the House with all 99 representatives present will take place on Jan. 7th."
Democrats earlier this month said Householder has worked through trade unions in an attempt to attract their votes by saying he won't be hostile to organized labor as Smith is. But most Democrats said they intended to vote for one of their own to be speaker.
Householder previously served as speaker from 2001 to 2004.