COLUMBUS — Ohio could soon, finally, have a new Speaker of the House.
Republican Rep. Kirk Schuring of Canton has been in charge since then-Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) left in April amid an FBI investigation.
Last week Ohio House members were directed to return to Columbus this Wednesday to resolve the leadership fight, which would likely mean that Highland County Commissioner Shane Wilkin would be sworn into office once that dispute is settled.
Before the May 8 primary, House Republicans agreed to immediately seat the winner of the primary between Wilkin and Clinton County businesswoman Beth Ellis to finish Rosenberger’s unexpired term as state representative from the 91s Ohio House District.
Wilkin won the GOP primary and even traveled to Columbus to be sworn in. But the failure by House Republicans to agree on a new leader put those plans on hold.
Wilkin will face Democratic candidate Justin Grimes in November, with the winner beginning a full term in January.
Schuring presented lawmakers with two options for resolving an impasse that’s brought law-making to a halt. The Republican became temporary speaker, or speaker pro tem, when Rosenberger resigned last month amid an FBI investigation.
Schuring gave lawmakers the option to vote on two existing candidates to succeed Rosenberger. Those are Smith, House Finance chairman, of Gallia County, and state Rep. Andy Thompson, of Marietta. Or they can vote to change the rules so Schuring can serve as speaker for the remainder of the year. Whichever gets the most support will proceed June 6.
“I’m hoping every member of the House wants to get back to business as usual and that’s what this is intended to allow,” Schuring said in a phone interview with the Associated Press.
That appeared to be the case among a contingent of eight Smith-supporting Republicans who called a news conference to urge Schuring to call the speaker vote.
Last week, federal agents searched Rosenberger’s southwest Ohio home and a nearby storage unit, apparently part of an investigation into the money behind his international travel and lavish lifestyle while serving as one of the state’s most powerful politicians.
FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren confirmed that the agency was “conducting law enforcement activities” in the area. They visited his home on State Route 350 in Clarksville and a storage unit in Wilmington.
Rosenberger’s lawyer, David Axelrod, said his client was cooperating with authorities, reiterating the former lawmaker’s position that he has “acted lawfully and ethically.”
“We previously offered to provide the information sought today by warrant, and today voluntarily provided additional information not covered by the warrant,” Axelrod said in a statement.