FBI agents raided the home of former Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosneberger (R) last week as part of an investigation into his relationships with payday lenders and private donors. The raid came after Rosenberger abruptly resigned from his speakership role in late April and hired a lawyer to handle an FBI inquiry into the matter. According to news reports, Rosenberger is under investigation for taking private trips to Europe, Israel, and China, which were funded by a payday lender.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Consumer Lenders Association says Rosenberger helped halt compromise legislation in March 2017 that would have regulated lending companies in Ohio. The OCLA says a committee chair, who wanted to make amendments, was prevented from doing so by Rosenberger. Just before he resigned, OCLA says Rosenberger threatened to pass more restrictive legislation unless they created a compromise.
In lieu of Rosenberger’s legal trouble, a vacant speakership has delayed the legislature’s summer recess and created a schism in GOP leadership. Rep. Ryan Smith, a close ally of Rosenberger, is competing for votes against Rep. Larry Householder, who served as Ohio House Speaker from 2001 to 2004, before returning to the statehouse in 2016. The Speaker must capture a 50-vote majority among the Assembly. Smith only garnered 47 votes during a closed meeting of the GOP caucus (there are 66 Republicans in the state legislature).
Smith has publicly accused Householder of threatening lawmakers against voting for him, but the former speaker strongly denies the accusations.
The Republican Party has maintained a trifecta in Ohio since 2010. However, a federal investigation into a high profile GOP leader, public turmoil among members and a looming Democratic wave could jeopardize their control. In 2018, all state house seats are open, as well as several high profile statewide races.