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Bob Cupp Comes Full Circle With Selection As Ohio House Speaker

New Ohio House Speaker Rep. Bob Cupp (R-Lima) speaks during an announcement of a proposed overhaul school funding for schools in Ohio at the Statehouse in Columbus, March 25, 2019.
John Minchillo
New Ohio House Speaker Rep. Bob Cupp (R-Lima) speaks during an announcement of a proposed overhaul school funding for schools in Ohio at the Statehouse in Columbus, March 25, 2019.

New Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) might be called the accidental speaker.

Cupp was elected to the leadership post last week after Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) was arrested on a federal racketeering charge related to the nuclear bailout law he championed. Householder wouldn’t say if he would resign, so his House colleagues unanimously stripped him of his leadership before the GOP majority installed a new speaker.

Cupp is the third House Speaker in two years. He says that when Householder was arrested, he was approached by other lawmakers and officials to consider taking his place.

“I had no ambition to do that. It was not my intent even to be in leadership," Cupp said on July 30, at his first meeting with reporters as Speaker.

There were five candidates in the Speaker race at one point, including state Rep. Tim Ginter (R-Salem). However, within a few days, Ginter and two other contenders pulled their names and threw their support behind Cupp, and Ginter officially nominated him on the floor.

“It is an absolutely priority that we put a person in there that is beyond reproach," Ginter said. "Is their character impeccable? And I tell you that I believe Bob Cupp is that person."

Cupp, an anti-abortion, pro-gun rights conservative Republican, is on his second tour of the legislature. He was a state senator for 16 years starting in 1985. He was elected as a commissioner in Allen County in 2002, and then won a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court in 2006.

During his single six-year term on the state's high court, Cupp sided with the majority in 2007 in ruling that FirstEnergy customers shouldn’t pay for increases in coal prices as part of “distribution costs” in their bills. In 2008, Cupp agreed with the decision to uphold the so-called “golden week,” in which a person could register and vote on the same day – which lawmakers eliminated in 2011.

And in 2012, Cupp was one of the four justices upholding as constitutional Ohio’s newly drawn and controversial Congressional district map, which some have called one of the most gerrymandered in the country.

Cupp was defeated in 2012 by Democratic now-former justice Bill O’Neill, on O’Neill’s third try of a long-shot campaign where he took no donations. Cupp is now the first person since C. William O’Neill in the late 1940s to serve as both an Ohio Supreme Court justice and the Ohio House speaker.

Cupp came back to Columbus in 2014 after winning the seat held by term-limited state Rep. Matt Huffman (R-Lima).

For years, Cupp had been interested in education funding. While serving in the Ohio Senate, he asked the Department of Education to put together district financial profiles that are now known as Cupp Reports.

Last year, he proposed an ambitious and complicated proposal to overhaul the school funding formula with term-limited state Rep. John Patterson (D-Jefferson). Patterson said Cupp is a fastidious and thoughtful lawmaker who helped put together a bill that he admits isn’t fully funded, but could be a model for paying for schools in the future.

“It's like a Rubik's cube. You fix something and another area goes out of whack. So it has taken time. We didn't just get into the weeds. We went into the subterranean soil to try to get this right," Patterson said. "And ironically, we were and are very close to introducing the substitute bill, which will reflect those changes.”

Cupp did not receive any votes for speaker from Democrats. Patterson admits that was tough, but that the caucus felt that Cupp should take charge without needing Democratic votes. That’s different than when Householder took over by bringing in an even number of Republicans and Democrats.

State Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) became Minority Leader last year after Democrats split over support for Householder. They didn’t fracture this time, and Sykes says Cupp didn’t reach out to them.

“Quite frankly, we don't know what we will get from Speaker. Now, I do know he has worked very closely with people on the other side of the aisle," Sykes said. "I have reached out to him already requesting a meeting from him and our leadership team. Hopefully, he honors that request in the very near future.”

Cupp didn’t win unanimous support from Republicans. Majority Floor Leader Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), who also describes Cupp as fastidious and thoughtful, said he was supporting Speaker Pro Tem Jim Butler (R-Oakwood).

However, Cupp edged out Butler in the private caucus session by one vote, and Seitz says what’s decided privately by the caucus should be supported publicly on the floor. Seitz and 54 others voted for Cupp, though three Republicans didn’t: state Reps. Tom Brinkman (R-Mt. Lookout), Bill Dean (R-Xenia) and Candice Keller (R-Middletown).

“I think you can take from the fact that the rest of them voted yes, that we're certainly willing to give Bob Cupp the mantle of leadership from now through the end of the year and wish him well, and hopefully we will work together in unison to get some good things done," Seitz said.

But Seitz said he’s not happy that some he calls Cupp’s “senior lieutenants” are pressuring him and other majority leaders to resign those positions so Cupp can appoint his own team.

On that, Cupp has only said that there are people to consult and that appropriate steps will be taken when the House returns, but that date hasn’t been set.

Cupp said his first legislative priority will be to look at the nuclear bailout law, which he voted for. Some bills to repeal it have been proposed, but the details of whether to take back the entire law or parts of it are still being discussed.