COLUMBUS — Today is expected to be the last day Republican Larry Householder gets to call himself speaker of the Ohio House.
Republicans and Democrats plan to strip the Glenford Republican of his gavel — but not his seat — following his arrest last week on racketeering charges.
Two Republican men are vying for the big seat on the dais, but it was unclear as of Wednesday night whether either of them had the 50 votes needed to win it.
Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, appeared to be the front runner after three of his competitors dropped out and threw their support behind the former Ohio State Supreme Court justice.
“I am grateful for the support from my esteemed colleagues today,” Cupp said in a statement. “It is imperative that we begin to rebuild public trust in our chamber, and serve the people of Ohio with the integrity they deserve.”
Several lawmakers told The Dispatch it’s still possible they will leave Columbus on Thursday without electing a new leader. Householder’s second in command, Speaker Pro Tem Jim Butler of Oakwood, is still in the running for the position.
“I think this is typical Republican foolishness where they are not able to get on one accord, and then the House stands in confusion and the people of Ohio are left in limbo,” Rep. Erica Crawley, D-Columbus, said.
The House went six weeks without a speaker in the spring of 2018 after then-Speaker Cliff Rosenberger resigned because of his own federal investigation for possible extortion, bribery and Travel Act violations.
Traditionally, the majority party picks a speaker no matter how long it takes. Former Speaker Ryan Smith was elected on the 11th ballot after Rosenberger’s departure. But Householder broke the the mold in January 2019 when he got 26 Democrats to put him over the top.
Democrats are unlikely to do that again this time around.
“I don’t think there is a willingness to vote for a Republican,” Rep. Jeff Crossman, D-Parma, said. “It’s left a bad taste in people’s mouths what’s happened.”
He also says Republicans need to call another vote to expel Householder from the chamber as well as remove him as speaker.
“Why wouldn’t we fire the speaker?” Crossman asked. “I think it is unfair to hold our staff accountable to the House’s code of conduct but not our elected officials.”
House Republicans appear reluctant to take that step in part because Householder is running unopposed in the 2020 election and could simply return to the chamber in January. And of course from a legal standpoint he remains innocent until proven guilty.
“My biggest thing around that is due process,” Rep. Paul Zeltwanger, R-Mason, said. “I would like to at least see a day in court for a response.”
Zeltwanger opposed his party’s decision to remove Householder as speaker.
But if he has to pick a new leader, he’s behind Butler. Conservative Republican like Rep. Nino Vitale are also backing Butler, who must leave the chamber after this year due to term limits.
“There is not a lot of honor and decency in Columbus or anywhere in politics, but Jim Butler is indeed, one of the few,” Vitale wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday.
Vitale lamented the fact that most Ohioans won’t know how Republicans pick the next speaker because it will be done using secret ballots during a private meeting.
“The party will then say, no matter who wins, we have to all ‘come together’ and act like we all supported the person who wins the majority in the public vote on the floor,” Vitale wrote. “I am not big on that group think mentality. I believe in total transparency.”