Though there are only 38 Democrats in the 99-member Ohio House, they were the crucial votes needed by Republican Larry Householder to become speaker – one of the most powerful positions in state government.
Without Democrats backing Householder 26-12, he would unlikely have won the race as incumbent Speaker Ryan Smith won 34-26 among fellow Republicans. It takes 50 votes to be elected speaker during 10 rounds of voting. During the 11th round, the candidate with the most votes is elected speaker.
In exchange for delivering the speaker spot to Householder, Democrats received several key promises from him that make them significantly more relevant than they’ve been in years.
Local Democratic state representatives said they were lobbied by labor unions to back Householder over Smith because the former opposes “right to work” legislation and is more pro-union than the latter.
“I received calls from the labor community in support for Speaker Householder,” said state Rep. Michael J. O’Brien of Warren, D-64th. “Basically every labor issue, Speaker Householder is sensitive to and Rep. Smith wouldn’t commit on those labor issues.”
But it’s a lot more than just that.
Among the most significant changes Householder is making are:
Naming Democratic co-chairs of the K-12 education committee, the criminal justice subcommittee and the energy generation subcommittee.
Changing House rules so amendments in committees can’t be indefinitely tabled, which has been the fate of many Democratic proposals over the years.
Narrowing the ratio on all standing committees to 60 percent Republicans and 40 percent Democrats. O’Brien mentioned that on the House Finance Committee, of which he serves, the current makeup has Republicans with an advantage of more than 2-to-1.
Hiring a professional human resources manager or firm to handle harassment complaints rather than having it done by a political appointee.
Broadcasting all committee hearings.
“He recognized [Democrats] are crucial,” said state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th. “For the first time since I’ve been here we’ll have a true bipartisan Legislature. I think he’ll listen to us. We were the reason he was elected speaker.”
Lepore-Hagan added: “I really think he’s compromising and he’s working across the aisle. He knows he needs to work with us. Now amendments will be able to be brought up on the floor.”
Householder served as House speaker from 2001 to 2004 and wasn’t known as being that bipartisan.
But the Valley’s Democratic legislators trust that he’s changed from his previous time as speaker.
They also say he’s a much better choice than Smith.
O’Brien said: “Speaker Householder will work closer and in a more bipartisan manner than Rep. Smith and Cliff Rosenberger,” the previous speaker who resigned last year because of an ongoing FBI investigation. “In speaking with Speaker Householder, he said if it’s a good bill it doesn’t matter if it’s a Democratic or a Republican bill, it will move forward. In my experience, Republicans have only moved Republican bills.”
State Rep. Glenn Holmes of Girard, D-63rd, said Householder “will bring about more bipartisan policymaking. Democrats were critical in putting him in office. With him as speaker, it’s an opportunity for the Democrats to have a more viable say so in what’s being heard and considered, and having the speaker’s ear.”
During typical speaker elections, there are very few, if any, crossover votes from the minority party.
But with Smith and Householder both unable to get enough Republicans to reach the minimum 50-vote threshold, both turned to Democrats in efforts to push them over the top.
Smith had an ally in House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, who urged Democrats to vote for the then-incumbent speaker over Householder.
However, labor union leaders apparently have much more sway with House Democrats as they voted overwhelmingly for Householder 26-12.
It leaves Strahorn in an embarrassing and weakened position as Democratic leader.
“Strahorn was insistent on Smith, and the caucus was pretty insistent they were going to support Householder,” O’Brien said. “He went against a majority of the caucus. That may or may not be addressed.”
Should Strahorn be removed?
“My thoughts are if the overwhelming majority of the caucus agrees to something, the leader should bow to the wishes,” he said. “In the words of Ricky Ricardo, ‘Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splainin to do.’ I don’t know if he should be replaced. I’m not committed one way or the other.”
Holmes said: “There are some disgruntled members about Strahorn. An overwhelming majority backed Householder. My primary concern is to bring the caucus together. But it needs to be asked if this is a fatal flaw for Strahorn.”