An Ohio House speaker resigns as the FBI looks into his relationship with payday lending lobbyists, and now, nine months later, a portion of the Republican majority may deliver the post to state Rep. Larry Householder, whose speakership more than a decade ago was rife with pay-to-play and aggressive fund-raising designed to enhance his power. More, Republicans may do so — with the help of Democrats in the minority.
Say it isn’t so.
Today, the House is slated to select a speaker for the new legislative session. The choice should be easy. State Rep. Ryan Smith, a Bidwell Republican, has served ably in the post since June, after prevailing in one chapter of what has been a prolonged and nasty battle with Householder and allies. Smith knows how to raise political money. He also has earned a reputation for putting first policy and the public interest.
Yet the Republican caucus is divided, 26 or so of its current 60 members apparently swayed by the Householder charms. Few want to see a repeat of the 11 ballots required to put Smith in the post, when a plurality of the vote became sufficient. Who knows, such an event could elevate state Rep. Fred Strahorn, a Dayton Democrat and minority leader, to speaker if all 38 Democrats hold together?
So Householder and Smith have been wooing Democrats as each bids to build a majority. On Friday, Democrats met to gauge where they stand. According to news accounts, 20 sided with Householder, with Smith and Strahorn each collecting eight supporters. Will Strahorn now opt against entering his name, leaving Democrats to choose between the two Republicans?
For Democrats, the opportunity may be there to strike a deal, leveraging their votes to gain, for instance, more say in crafting the state budget or advancing legislation, in the end striking a higher profile for bipartisanship. Reporting indicates some in organized labor have been pushing Democrats to support Householder because he has pledged to refrain from introducing right-to-work and other anti-union legislation.
If anything, Democrats should be looking to deal with Smith. Or rather, bearing in mind the kind of speaker Householder was. His performance hardly differed from the corrupting deeds that resulted in Cliff Rosenberger stepping down and that Democrats rightly have criticized. Actually, in view of what is known, Householder behaved worse. Back him, and Democrats distinguish themselves how?
In that way, Republicans, too, would do well to recall the two-year FBI investigation of Householder as speaker, following a tip about kickback schemes and other unsavory activities. The Justice Department didn’t prosecute. The picture did come together of a pol and his machine, grabbing for political money, bullying, expedient, looking first to expand and consolidate his own clout, whatever the policy direction.
Ethical messes then turned up in Perry County, where Householder returned due to term limits and won election to the auditor post. Among other things, the state auditor cited the county for $9,000 in unearned pay going to workers who helped renovate a business in which Householder was an investor.
No surprise that the state inspector general recently found prison officials, using inmate labor and seeking to curry favor, delivered a $9,300 conference table with chairs to Householder free of charge. This episode provides a timely exclamation: Stay away! The job of speaker involves many things. None is more important than public integrity. Ryan Smith has it. Larry Householder? Look at the record.