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Rep. Ryan Smith Elected Ohio House Speaker

Rep. Smith speaks during Ohio House session on April 11, 2018.
Ohio House

The Ohio House attempted to elect a new speaker on Wednesday afternoon, following weeks of inertia, in-fighting and canceled meetings.

Even then, it took 11 rounds of voting and a rule change in order for Finance Chair and state Rep. Ryan Smith to finally win with a plurality of votes.

Smith remained the frontrunner through several weeks of negotiation and every single round of voting on Wednedsay. But supporters of former Speaker Larry Householder were determined to keep Smith away from the position, backing state Reps. Andy Thompson and Jim Hughes as alternatives.

Democrats, meanwhile, consolidated support around House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn. The result was a monotonous afternoon of voting where four factions of lawmakers barely budged from their original positions.

The final vote was 44 votes for Smith, 28 for Strahorn, 13 for Thompson and 7 for Hughes. 

More than two hours after voting began, Smith was sworn as House Speaker of the 132nd General Assembly.

"I always wondered what it would be like to go the distance in a prize fight," Smith said following the oath. "I guess now I know."

Smith said he's "fully aware" of the divisions not just in the country and Ohio, but also within political parties. He asked that while lawmakers may disagree with colleagues, he requests they do so respectfully.

Smith ended his brief speech on a note all Ohio lawmakers could likely get behind: "Thank you, God bless you, and go Cavs."

Gov. John Kasich, who declined to pick sides in the speaker fight, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying he was looking forward to working with Smith.

The Ohio House had been without a speaker since state Rep. Cliff Rosenberger resigned suddenly in April, amid an FBI investigation into his international travel and relationships with lobbyists. Rosenberger's unprecedented departure left Speaker Pro Tem Kirk Schuring in charge, but unable to pass any bills.

The speaker opening led to a proxy battle between those GOP lawmakers backing Smith and those backing Householder, who is not running for the interim position. Republicans hold 65 of the House's 98 filled seats.

When Smith fell short of securing enough votes in an initial Republican election, Schuring postponed the decision indefinitely. After discussions failed to provide a way forward, Schuring gave House members the option to either change the rules so he could continue serving as interim speaker, or hold a full election.

Several members failed to show up at Wednesday's long-awaited vote, lowering the bar for election to 46 votes. That didn’t help any faction win a majority, though.

Smith was nominated for speaker by state Rep. Bob Cupp, Thompson was nominated by Christina Hagan, and state Rep. Jim Hughes was nominated by Jay Edwards.

Backing Thompson, Hagan called it a "unique, rare and historic opportunity to nominate a term-limited representative for speaker." Democrats didn't let Republicans go unchallenged, as Strahorn was nominated by Nick Celebrezze for speaker. Democrats have continued to push for answers about Rosenberger's resignation.

However, some Democrats voted for Smith and Hughes in Wednesday's election.

The first round of voting ended with no candidate winning a majority. Smith fell two votes short, garnering 44 votes. Strahorn came in second with 28 votes. Thompson got 17 votes and Hughes got 2.

Ohio House rules allow for a total of 11 rounds of voting. After 10 rounds, a candidate can win without capturing a majority of the quorum.

Subsequent rounds saw Smith and Strahorn maintaining their votes, while some of Thompson's backers defected to vote for Hughes instead. The last several rounds came out the same: 44 votes for Smith, 28 for Strahorn, and the remaining split between Thompson and Hughes.

Following the eighth failed vote, state Rep. Niraj Antani motioned for a recess. Lawmakers rejected the motion and continued with the last few rounds of voting.

Members had to cast their votes verbally on Wednesday, because the voting apparatus in the chamber only allows for "yes" or "no" votes and so has no way to register a four-way contest.

Throughout the voting process, some lawmakers broke the monotony by altering their verbal votes. State Rep. Jack Cera drew chuckles with his varied votes for “the bearded Fred Strahorn,” “the Honorable Fred Strahorn,” “the Notable Fred Strahorn” and “the Venerable Fred Strahorn,” among other titles. Meanwhile, state Rep. John Becker reiterated his choice with “Thompson forever” and “Thompson perpetually.”

Though the election ends the House's impasse for now, members may face the same drama again soon. The Ohio House must vote for a speaker again in January, when a new session begins. Both Smith and Householder have indicated they plan to run.

Gabe Rosenberg joined WOSU in October 2016. As digital news editor, Gabe reports breaking news and edits all content for the WOSU website, as well as manages the station's social media accounts.