Two state lawmakers who spoke at a "roast" event earlier this week have apologized for their remarks, which included a reference to a vulgar word describing female genitalia, and potentially disparaging comments about a former lawmaker and a current one.
Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, issued a letter of apology to his House colleagues on Thursday for his comments at a Downtown "roast" event. The veteran lawmaker, known as one of the top orators in the Statehouse, apparently went too far on Tuesday at an event at the Athletic Club of Columbus meant to honor and poke fun at departing Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe.
Seitz, in talking about some of Dittoe’s former bosses, brought up former state Rep. Diana Fessler, an outspoken and, at times, controversial conservative who was not in attendance at the event. Seitz reportedly made fun of some of Fessler’s beliefs and told the audience that if they don’t remember her, "Just think Candice Keller but more outspoken."
That was in reference to fellow southwest Ohio Republican Rep. Keller of Middletown, who also was not in attendance. Keller told some media outlets on Thursday that she was very angry about what was said, and on Wednesday she met with Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, to let him know how she felt.
Keller did not file a formal complaint with the House.
"I would like to express my deep regret and remorse for my remarks ... and for any shame that was brought upon the Ohio House of Representatives," Seitz wrote in his apology letter. "I take full responsibility for my words in their entirety. The comments I made at the event were mine and mine alone."
Seitz also reportedly made other jokes that did not go over well with some, including one involving former Sen. Cliff Hite, who resigned in October over allegations of sexual harassment of a female staffer.
"Politicians who think it’s alright to publicly degrade, humiliate and make light of victims who have been sexually harassed and preyed upon by elected officials are part of the problem in America," said Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood.
The remarks took criticism from others, including Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, and Republican state treasurer candidate Sandra O’Brien, who called on Seitz to step down from leadership.
Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, also spoke at the event and reportedly has been tapped to speak at similar functions in the past because of his sense of humor, along with his ability to both ad lib and do impressions. He also issued an apology after some thought he went too far with a comment that made a subtle reference to what some know as the "c-word."
One person in attendance said most in the audience did not immediately get the reference, as he did not directly speak the word. But some did get it — or at least they did when it was printed the next day by a website that follows Statehouse politics.
"I understand why people at the event were offended, and I apologize. I am truly sorry," Huffman said.
Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, met with Huffman and "expressed his strong disappointment and disapproval," said spokesman John Fortney. "The need for any further action will be evaluated as needed."
In his letter, Seitz also specifically apologized to Keller and Fessler "for any distress or embarrassment I may have caused."
"While my intention was to help honor a departing staffer who has loyally served in the Ohio House for 15 years, I understand that my words caused great offense and have tarnished an otherwise celebratory event."
Rosenberger addressed the Republican caucus prior to the House session on Wednesday, apologizing for some of the remarks at Tuesday’s event. Seitz was not in Columbus on Wednesday because, following his speech, he severely injured his ankle while walking down the steps at the Athletic Club and required surgery.
In a letter responding to Seitz, Rosenbeger, who was among those in attendance Tuesday, said that he was "disheartened by the careless and insensitive remarks," which he called "irresponsible and not appropriate as a representative and, more importantly, as a member of my leadership team."
Seitz is the House majority floor leader, the No. 5 caucus leadership position.
Rosenberger directed Seitz to personally apologize to Keller and Fessler and address the matter to members in person.
"Going forward, I expect your actions to be more thoughtful and your behavior more respectful to others," Rosenberger wrote. "As an elected leader of this chamber, it is your responsibility to set an example that others can follow and not to be the cause of the disruption."