COLUMBUS — Ohio House Democrats selected a new leader on Wednesday in the wake of a House speaker vote that shook up both caucuses.
In an informal, closed-door vote, Rep. Emilia Sykes, a 33-year-old Akron Democrat, was selected by the caucus as the next minority leader. The three-term lawmaker replaces Rep. Fred Strahorn of Dayton, who stepped aside after four years as leader following the House speaker vote earlier this month.
Women now make up three of the four positions in House Democratic leadership, heading a 38-member caucus that is 50 percent women. A record 28 women are now serving in the House, including nine in the 61-member Republican caucus.
Rep. Kristin Boggs, a former assistant attorney general and up-and-coming Democrat from Columbus, was selected as assistant leader, while Rep. Kent Smith of Euclid and freshman Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson, the former mayor of Toledo, round out the leadership team.
All four members of the new leadership voted earlier this month to make Rep. Larry Householder, R-Glenford, the next speaker of the House. Strahorn and Rep. Brigid Kelly of Cincinnati stepped down from leadership spots after they backed former Speaker Ryan Smith’s bid to remain speaker.
Of the 14 women who voted for Householder, 11 were Democrats.
Householder made some agreements with Democrats to gain their support, including making some Democratic co-chairs of subcommittees, adding professional House human resources, passing rules to better allow Democrats to offer amendments and issuing a pledge not to pass anti-union legislation. In exchange, Democrats provided half of Householder’s 52 votes, which gave him a narrow victory over Smith.
“Part of our conversations with Speaker Householder included this component of the majority and minority leadership teams working more cohesively, having a better rapport and open line of communication,” Boggs said. “We will inherently have different ideas on how to move Ohio forward. But being able to have the debates necessary to bring our ideas forward and have meaningful conversations about them is going to be incredibly important.”
Sykes can draw from plenty of family experience. Her father, Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, is one of the longest-serving members of the legislature, and her mother, Barbara Sykes, served three terms in the House from 2001-06.
“Ohioans want leaders who put people first, who know how to work together to get things done," Sykes said. “I am humbled by the support of this caucus and look forward to working with this leadership team, members, staff and my Republican colleagues over the next two years to improve the lives of Ohio's children, families and workers.”
Boggs said she’s excited to join leadership as the caucus has grown, including a record number of Democrats from Franklin County. "There is an exciting momentum behind the new members."
Strahorn had urged his members to back Smith. But a number of major unions urged Democrats to back Householder, who also made several personal calls. In the end, 26 of 38 Democrats went against Strahorn and voted for Householder, allowing the Perry County Republican to win despite prevailing with only a minority of votes within his own caucus. Soon after, Strahorn announced he would step aside as leader.
Majority House Republicans have not yet filled out their caucus leadership team. They are meeting this week at their caucus retreat, but Gail Crawley, a spokeswoman for Householder, said she was not aware that a leadership vote has been scheduled.