Top House Dem talks about stepping down from leadership, concerns for the future

Ohio Statehouse News

COLUMBUS (WDTN) – A change in leadership on the Republican side of the aisle in the Ohio House of Representatives has resulted in a change with the Democrats as well.

State Representative Fred Strahorn is stepping down from his leadership role and shares some of the concerns he has.

With nearly two decades under his belt, Strahorn was the most recent minority leader in the House.

That is coming to an end as he and a majority of his caucus simply aren’t on the same page.

Recently, Strahorn was at odds with his caucus over who to support for Speaker of the House and why.

“It wasn’t up to us to solve a republican issue, and I had that conversation with both candidates a long time ago that I really wanted to stay out of it,” said Strahorn.

Strahorn went on to explain his reason for that.

“My concerns have largely been about breaking the conventions around here and I think we damage the institution when we do that,” said Strahorn.

Normally, the party in the minority supports whomever the majority party caucus puts forward as their intended speaker after that is determined by the caucus informally.

That didn’t happen last year when Representative Ryan Smith was unable to get enough of his own caucus to support him when Former Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger resigned suddenly under investigation by the FBI.

At that time it was already well know that Representative Larry Householder was positioning himself for a run at the Speakership the following General Assembly, which has just started.

Last summer however, Householder didn’t have enough support within the Republican Caucus and his credit with Democrats was low to non-existent.

With that in mind, Householder did not put himself forward as a contender to finish the previous General Assembly as Speaker of the House; Ryan Smith did as did Representative Andy Thompson.

In a historic session of the House of Representatives, the battle for who would be speaker raged over several hours and multiple calls for a vote of support from the members of the chamber.

Ultimately, Smith was awarded the Speakership without obtaining a majority of the votes cast. Instead he received the most votes of the three candidates; Democrats at the time put Strahorn up as a candidate and were nearly unified in supporting him.

At the time, Strahorn did not have enough votes to win by plurality as Smith did because there were not enough Democrat members of the House to outnumber the two warring factions within the GOP caucus separately.

That may not have been the case earlier this month after Democrats picked up several seats bringing their total membership to 38.

However, Democrats were unwilling to unify behind Strahorn as they did the previous June, and ultimately they were forced to make a decision of their own to support Smith or Householder.

“Clearly, my caucus felt more strongly about one direction than I did,” said Strahorn in hindsight.

Strahorn supported Smith for Speaker of the House while a majority of the Democratic Caucus supported Householder.

Every lawmaker has their own reason for choosing the side they did, but some of their decision may have been influenced in part by events over the previous General Assembly.

Last year ended on a particularly tense note after a member of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus was gaveled down in open session while she was making a point involving race.

The scenario exemplified a growing rift between then Speaker Smith and the OLBC and Democrats at large.

When it came time to vote earlier this year, Householder promised Democrats things they wanted and many members of the OLBC supported him in kind. Strahorn was one of the few that did not.

Strahorn is one of five legislators who actually served under Householder as the Speaker of the House. It was more than a decade ago, but Strahorn remembers it clearly.

The last time Householder was Speaker of the House he was slow to bring a bill forward for a vote on the floor if it required Democrat support to pass, preferring instead to simply ignore them.

Given how Strahorn’s advice was not heeded, and the sheer number of members of his caucus who broke with him over the Speaker’s vote, he has decided to step down as minority leader.

“I thought it was a good idea to just move out the way and let the caucus go in the direction that it best go,” said Strahorn.

Which begs the question, if that direction is not the one Strahorn was leading the party down where is the caucus headed?

That change in direction has Strahorn concerned.

“I have grave concerns about how people relate to the institution or how important they think it is to learn how the institution has operated in the past and why the rules exist to help drive really complicated debate around emotional intense issues that affect different districts in different ways,” said Strahorn. “When we start picking out the bricks from the basement on the way the institution was designed I think we make it harder to govern.”

Where the caucus is headed, is a question that can only be answered by the next minority leader which won’t be chosen until February when lawmakers reconvene.

The assistant minority leader Emilia Strong Sykes has already thrown her hat into the ring.

Sykes is an OLBC member and has been a vocal critic of the way some lawmakers have been allegedly treated by security at the Statehouse.

In exchange for Democrat support, Householder has promised a HR professional for lawmakers and staff to bring complaints to.

Exactly how that position will function, as well as what level of access the public will have to the complaints and discipline that stem from them is still unknown.

Householder also promised amendments would not be tabled in committee or on the floor of the House and that they would receive discussion and a vote.

That, however, does not change the fact that Democrats are still outnumbered.

Sure their amendments will be submitted, and after discussion on them is had they will simply be voted down instead of tabled in most, if not all cases.

Householder’s promise of the return of floor amendments without a cut-off time is a bit of double edged sword.

Last year, the Democrats submitted their amendment before the two-hour cut off time for floor amendments. When the bill came up they wanted to amend, the Republicans were given the first opportunity to amend the bill.

They changed one word in a paragraph of the bill.

Then it was the Democrats turn, but because the amendment they wanted to add dealt with the same paragraph with the word that was just changed the amendment was now invalid.

Removing the two-hour cutoff time would stop that from happening because the amendment would not be known to the other side until it was time to deal with it.

Sounds fair, right?

Nothing will stop the majority party from calling a recess to look at this new amendment, whip up their members to vote it down, and then return to defeat it anyway.

As for last minute amendments going the other way, the minority party can call for a recess simply to try and figure out what the majority party is trying to do with it; but ultimately, if the Republican caucus wants the amendment, the Democrats can’t stop them on their own.

If the past has shown us anything it is that Speaker Householder is a highly intelligent and motivated politician who knows how to get what he wants.

Strahorn says he doesn’t know if things will be the same as they were the last time Householder was Speaker. He says, time will tell.

Strahorn also says he regrets nothing.

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