As 2019 begins in Ohio, so does a new legislative session. As such, 132 lawmakers were sworn into office Monday as the 133rd General Assembly.
The Senate got started first, swearing in 33 senators, followed a few minutes later by the House of Representatives.
After all House members were sworn in the first order of business was to pick a Speaker of the House.
The battle for this position has been raging for over a year as Representative Larry Householder returned to the Statehouse for the 132nd General Assembly and set his eyes on the Speakership, a position he held previously.
When Cliff Rosenberger resigned suddenly last year, the battle created a chasm in the Republican Caucus at the Statehouse, resulting in weeks of canceled and delayed sessions where no bills were voted off the floor and a backlog developed.
At that time, Representative Ryan Smith won his bid to be Speaker over Representative Andy Thompson, who had the backing of Republicans who also supported Householder.
With 30 new Republicans coming into the House and the loss of a few seats to Democrats, Ryan’s support eroded and when it came time for the Speaker vote Monday he came up short of getting the 50 votes needed to win the seat back, even with a smattering of Democrat support.
The Democrats that did not support Smith for Speaker went for Householder instead, and they were enough to push Householder over the 50 vote mark making him the first Speaker to be re-elected after leaving the legislation and returning in recent memory.
Had the Democrats all voted for the same individual, a Democrat for instance, they could have installed a Democrat as Speaker unless some Republicans switched sides in the final vote.
Had Democrats done this, the vote likely could have gone the distance as it did six months ago when Smith won through plurality.
Because the two factions in the Republican Caucus would have been outnumbered by a unified Democrat Caucus, a Democrat could have won that plurality of the votes.
Strahorn was not nominated by the Democrats this time around at his request.
Because the Democrats decided not to through their hat in the ring, they were instead forced to choose between Householder and Smith.
“I did not want to be a default where I gave an advantage to one person or the other by my presence,” said Strahorn. “My initial feeling was it is normal for the minority to stay out of it; this is a majority problem and the majority is typically supposed to solve it for themselves.”
To complicate matters, a letter was sent to Representative Kristin Boggs yesterday that alleges unwanted sexual advances and racist behavior on behalf of lawmakers and some of the staff members that are close to Householder.
Neither Householder nor his staffs were accused in the letter that was subsequently posted to Twitter by its author.
The letter describes instances where the Hispanic staffer, who began her employment as a staffer for the Republican caucus in March 2018, alleges the Representative whom she worked for told her “women do not think logically, they think with their hearts not with their brains,” when she disagreed with him.
She claims the Representative is a close ally to Householder.
Her letter goes on to state that she was told her views on immigration do not matter because he parents are immigrants from Latin American countries and that she was once referred to as “the good type of Mexican” by the Representative.
She alleges she has been the target of unwanted advances in her office.
She also claims an aide for another Representative would yell, “Taco! Nacho! Burrito!” when he overheard her speaking Spanish and changed her name to “Maria, because that sounds more Mexican.”
The author also claims a lawmaker made comments about the level of danger Mexicans pose.
That lawmaker was not happy about what was written says all of the accusations in it are “untrue, ludicrous, pure slander” and that it was “a political attack.”
The author of the letter urged Boggs not to support Householder for Speaker, because of the people he surrounds himself with, in order to protect women and minorities at the Statehouse.
Boggs having received the letter the day before the vote was faced with a difficult decision as were other Democrats who became aware of the accusations before the vote.
Ultimately, Boggs voted for Householder and says the letter was taken into consideration.
“I whole heartedly (sic) accept her letter as true and is factual,” said Boggs. “I recognize that it’s also not the first time someone has come forward that’s a member of our staff complaining about sexual harassment. I believe that it’s the speaker’s responsibility to address those issues.”
The same claims of ongoing harassment were laid at the feet of Ryan Smith when he took over the Speakership and were not resolved to many Democrat lawmakers liking.
And Householder has promised changes.
“We want to make sure that we have a professional HR department to address these issues, make sure the people are treated fairly, and someone that’s professional that members and staff can go to for questions and with concerns that they have,” said Householder.
But wanting it and making it happen will be two different things.
Regarding the allegations posed in the letter, Householder says he may have to look into them.
“I would think there’s been a thorough investigation done and if the allegations are true I am certain that they were handled appropriately, but I am more than happy to look at those,” said Householder.
If they were not handled appropriately Householder says he has a zero tolerance policy.
Both of the previous two Speakers had a zero tolerance policy as well.
Householder also wants to make some rules and policy changes for this General Assembly.
He wants to eliminate the 2-hour cutoff time to submit amendments for bills.
He says that gives opponents of the amendment time to figure out how to defeat them.
He also wants to see an end to the practice of amendments being tabled in committee.
In the last General Assembly it was common for Democrats to offer an amendment to a bill and it would immediately be tabled without debate or vote by the Republicans.
Finally, Householder wants more committee hearings to be broadcast. Currently only a handful of House and Senate committees are broadcast by the state run Ohio Government Channel.
Opening broadcasting of the committee hearings could result in a need for increased funding. No word on how that would be dealt with.
Householder himself says he has learned from his past stint as Speaker of the House and is now more patient and that his leadership skills have improved.
It was 18 years ago he was sworn in as Speaker of the House. Since then he has become a grandfather, which he says has also caused his world view to shift.
Householder says he has always had a reputation of being fair and trying to sit down to listen to people’s issues, but some lawmakers who served with him all those years ago remember things different.
Time will tell if Householder has learned from his previous experience.
He said it himself on the dais of the House Chambers, he will have to earn the trust of those who currently do not trust him.
That goes for both sides of the aisle.