With the Ohio House unable to pass legislation for several weeks now, Rep. Kirk Schuring and state GOP leaders are trying to settle the impasse through a twist that would leave Schuring in charge of the chamber for the remainder of the year without actually naming him speaker.
Sources said Schuring, the No. 2 House leader and dean of the Republican caucus, has proposed to members that while he would remain as speaker pro tempore, it would happen in a way, perhaps with a rule change, that would allow the chamber to begin voting on bills.
Ohio Republican Chair Jane Timken, who like Schuring is from Canton, is trying to broker a deal amid a battle for House speaker between backers of Reps. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, and Larry Householder, R-Glenford.
"Chairman Timken was approached by several members of the House to help mediate an agreement on the speaker’s vacancy," state GOP spokesman Blaine Kelly in an email.
"The chairman agreed to serve as a neutral arbiter to settle the dispute. This impasse can only be resolved by putting the institution of the House first. We appreciate the leadership of Rep. Schuring and the willingness of Rep. Householder to work toward a solution. We encourage others to take responsible action as well and to compromise to allow the House to conduct the business of the people of Ohio."
The last sentence is an apparent reference to Smith, who declined Timken's offer for him and Householder to talk.
"Why would I talk with Larry? He didn’t put his name in (for speaker)," Smith said. Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, is the other GOP speaker candidate, running as the short-term option backed by Householder.
Smith said he made Thompson "the ultimate offer" to have him serve as speaker pro tempore for the remainder of the year. "He turned it down. I’m not sure why getting together to talk would matter."
Smith holds support from as many as 47 of the 66 House Republicans. But the new speaker needs 50 votes of the 99-member chamber to take the post, and Democrats aren't inclined to help due to the specter of an FBI probe hanging over former Speaker Cliff Rosenberger and perhaps unknown others.
Columbus Democratic Rep. David Leland, an attorney, reacted to an early online version of this Dispatch story by tweeting: "Curious about details—but a rule change could require Dem support. The scandal and governing crisis is a Republican creation—we could be open to helping solve the impasse—if the solution is truly bipartisan."
Householder and Smith have skirmished for months over a speaker vote anticipated in January 2019, them the term-limited Rosenberger originally was scheduled to leave office. But the job suddenly became vacant in April when Rosenberger abruptly resigned after hiring a criminal defense lawyer due to the FBI probe into his overseas trips and other perks he utilized. The agency raided his home and a storage unit that held many of his House records last week.
Many of Householder's supporters won't take office until January, so he wants an interim speaker to serve only the remainder of 2018. Smith wants the job now, perhaps giving him an advantage in the January matchup Householder.
The House has not passed a bill since April 11 because leaders determined that, with the speaker’s seat vacant, the chamber is not permitted to act on legislation. It’s unclear what would occur to change that, but amending or suspending a House rule also would take at least 50 votes.
Schuring thus far has declined to call a House session to hold a vote for speaker, arguing that he first wants to be convinced someone has 50 Republican votes. Smith has accused Householder of utilizing dirty tactics to pressure members not to support him, a charge Householder says is a lie.
Schuring on Sunday declined to comment on specifics, stressing only that he is still working on finding a solution "so we can get back to the business of the House and doing things that we’re supposed to do for the people and policy."
Schuring, who is running for an Ohio Senate seat, has previously said he was not interested in being speaker. However, the longer the impasse drags on and unvoted bills pile up, the more the gridlock is causing policy and political headaches for Republicans.
Smith and a number of his supporters are concerned that a short-term speaker would have problems, particularly hurting fundraising efforts as they head into a potentially difficult November election.
"In my opinion, naturally there is an ascension when there is a vacancy or an absence, just like we have with the president or the governor of Ohio," Schuring said. "A lot of other people are in positions that you would call the chief executive officer. I’m trying to get in a point where we can do that."
Smith said Sunday night that he had not yet heard from Schuring. He was adamant last week that Schuring should call a speaker vote now. The next potential session dates are Wednesday and Thursday.
"I like Ryan Smith. He is somebody I respect," Schuring said. "But we have to get to the point where we can have a smooth transition and not have a quarrel between members about who is going to be elected speaker."
Dispatch Public Affairs Editor Darrel Rowland contributed to this story