Democrats say FBI probe makes them unwilling to help GOP elect speaker in Ohio House

“This is not a time for deal-making,” said Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus. “We have the first speaker in the history of Ohio forced to resign from an FBI investigation. We don’t know who else is involved. We don’t know the other issues involved. We don’t know if the FBI investigation looking into ECOT illegal contributions is part of (it).”

The acting speaker of the Ohio House said he’s not giving up on holding a vote for a new speaker, as accusations of dirty play and an FBI raid of former House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s home further complicate the matter.

Meanwhile, House Democrats gathered in front of the locked House chamber Thursday afternoon to urge Republicans to get the chamber back to work — although most of the Democrats won’t help a Republican nominee for speaker get to the 50-vote threshold.

“This is not a time for deal-making,” said Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus. “We have the first speaker in the history of Ohio forced to resign from an FBI investigation. We don’t know who else is involved. We don’t know the other issues involved. We don’t know if the FBI investigation looking into ECOT illegal contributions is part of (it).”

The Dispatch has reported that the FBI has been asking questions about ECOT contributions, including whether founder Bill Lager illegally reimbursed employees for their donations.

Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, added: “This is not something they need us to do. They really don’t want to have to do it with us.”

Rosenberger abruptly resigned six weeks ago amid the FBI investigation involving his overseas travel and, potentially, gifts and other perks. House Republicans have not yet picked a new leader, leaving the chamber unable to vote on legislation.

In addition to the raids on Rosenberger’s home and a storage facility he was using, House officials late Wednesday turned over documents to the FBI from House offices in the Riffe Center. Many of the documents were former Speaker Rosenberger’s personal effects, said caucus spokesman Brad Miller.

So what now?

The choice for majority Republicans comes down to Reps. Ryan Smith of Bidwell, who wants to continue as speaker in 2019, and Andy Thompson of Marietta, who is leaving the House at the end of December. Rep. Larry Householder, R-Glenford, has been battling Smith for the leadership spot for 2019 and supports having a short-term speaker.

Democrats will nominate Strahorn.

The House has not passed a bill since April 11.

Smith has tried to persuade the acting speaker, Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, to call a vote on a new speaker.

“If the person who has the most to risk wants to take the vote, then why wouldn’t we take the vote?” Smith said.

The House has six “if needed” days left: the Wednesday and Thursday of each of the next three weeks. Any of those days could be used to hold a vote and start passing legislation.

Schuring, the dean of the caucus, said he would like to hold a vote next week. But he still wants to be convinced that Smith has the needed 50 Republican votes. As of last week, Smith had 47.

“I’m working feverishly to make that happen,” Schuring said of a vote next week. “I’m not taking any of this lightly. We’ve got work to do, and I understand that.”

Smith said Schuring alone is deciding not to call a vote.

“I know Rep. Smith is extremely frustrated now and wants to get this over with,” Schuring said.

This probably ends in one of four ways:

• The House doesn’t hold a vote and disappears until at least after the November election.

• At least three of the 18 Republican holdouts decide to back Smith in a formal House vote. That group of 18 includes Reps. Jim Hughes of Upper Arlington, Anne Gonzales of Westerville and Andrew Brenner of Powell.

• At least three Democrats join 47 Republicans to support Smith.

• Smith gets fewer than 50 votes, at which point the House repeats the vote as many as 10 times (with members standing and announcing their vote each time). On the 11th vote, there is no longer a threshold of 50; the candidate with the most votes wins.

The governor?

Gov. John Kasich had little to say about the dysfunction in the House. “I don’t give messages to the legislature; they’ll figure it out,” he said.

The Republican said “I know … we’re getting to the point where we are going to run out of days here. … They’ll pick somebody and settle down. I wish them the best.”

The Senate?

The Senate passed nine bills Wednesday. Asked whether House infighting will damage the public’s perception of the entire Statehouse and Republican Party, Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, shrugged it off.

“I don’t think anything that happens in any other branch of government or chamber causes a perception problem for the Senate,” he said. “The message is loud and clear that we’re here and doing the work the voters and taxpayers expect us to do.”

Obhof said he is disappointed that the House’s speaker vote hasn’t been resolved. “The longer it stretches, the worse it is for the chamber and the people of Ohio.”

Waiting for votes?

Far more than 100 bills are awaiting House action, including those affecting payday-lending regulations, pay raises for non-union state workers, a “stand your ground” gun bill and the Reagan Tokes Act.

Rep. Thomas West, D-Canton, pointed to House Bill 479, which would prohibit health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers from charging consumers exorbitant drug co-payments. The bill also would ban “gag rules” that prevent pharmacists from telling customers about cheaper options for acquiring medications, such as paying out of pocket.

“This bill would help decrease prescription-drug costs for all Ohioans,” West said.

Dispatch Reporter Randy Ludlow contributed to this story.

jsiegel@dispatch.com

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