Legislative Update: Election and GOPC Focus Through Lame Duck

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

The people have spoken. So what message did they send and what exactly does it mean?

Voters went to the polls on Tuesday in record numbers for a midterm election, with all of Ohio’s statewide executive offices on the ballot, as well as all seats in the Ohio House of Representatives and half of the seats in the Ohio Senate. Because of term limits, all of the statewide offices were open-seat contests. In addition, nearly 50 seats in the state legislature were open-seat contests due to a combination of term limits, retirements, and office-jumping as members sought other offices at both the state and local level.

While the focus of national politics had been on an expected “blue wave” of democrats being elected in large numbers due to discontent with the state of affairs in Washington, that wave met a very large red seawall in Ohio. Republicans swept all 5 statewide offices (Governor, Attorney General, Auditor of State, Secretary of State and Treasurer of State), and were returned to power with large majorities in the Ohio legislature. As of this writing, Democrats achieved a net-gain of four seats in the Ohio House by picking up 5 seats in suburban areas of Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, though Republicans were able to pick up a seat in the Mahoning Valley. Three contests may be headed for a recount. In House District 28 near Cincinnati, Republican incumbent Jonathan Dever holds a 303 vote lead over Democrat Jessica Miranda. In House District 43 near Dayton, Republican J. Todd Smith leads Democrat Dan Foley by 462 votes, while Republican Don Manning leads Democrat Eric Ungaro by 409 votes in the one democratic district Republicans flipped on Tuesday night. All three contests may be subject to recounts after provisional ballots and outstanding absentee ballots are counted within the next 10 days.

In the Ohio Senate, Republicans maintained their super majority, winning reelection in the 8 districts on the ballot, in addition to flipping one additional seat in the Mahoning Valley. Democrats held 6 of the 7 seats they currently hold in the upper chamber which were on the ballot, and will return 8 members to the Senate next year. As of this writing, there is one contest which has yet to be decided. In the 3rd District in Franklin County, Republican Anne Gonzales leads Democrat Tina Maharath by just 329 votes out of more than 128,000 cast. There are roughly 15,000 provisional ballots and 11,000 outstanding absentee ballots which need to be counted, meaning that it is entirely possible that Democrats could flip this long-held Republican district and maintain the 24-9 split in place in the Ohio Senate for the past two years.

Now that the dust has settled from the election campaign, Republicans in the House will focus on the future as they debate who should be Speaker of the House. After former Speaker Cliff Rosenberger resigned in April, Representative Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) was elected to serve out the remainder of the year as Speaker. With Republicans returning with a majority in the House (63 seats at the moment), a Republican is once again expected to be Speaker. However, there will be a contest between Speaker Smith and Representative Larry Householder (R-Glenford), a former House Speaker who returned to the state legislature last year after being forced out by term limits in 2004. Neither Speaker Smith or Representative Householder are believed to have more than 50 votes – a majority of all members of the House – and there will be a considerable amount of jockeying for position in the lead-up to a vote which is expected to occur within the Republican Caucus before Thanksgiving. Speaker Smith will be term-limited in 2020, so even if he is re-elected to the top job in the House, the position will be in contest again in two years. Should Rep. Householder emerge victorious, there is the possibility he could remain Speaker for 6 years, as he will not face term limits until 2024.

The legislature will return to work for the first time since June on November 14 for a lame duck session, as they begin the process of wrapping-up pending legislation for the 132nd General Assembly which expires on December 31. With Republicans maintaining their hold on state government (at the statewide level anyway) for at least four more years, there is not expected to be a flurry of activity during lame duck session. Instead, the Kasich era in Columbus is anticipated to end rather quietly, with Republicans expected to focus on passage of legislation addressing energy standards and regulatory reform, as well as possible action to address the long term stability of the state unemployment compensation fund.

Greater Ohio Policy Center will be working on three outstanding issues during the closing days of the 132nd General Assembly, continuing to seek the enactment of House Bill 598 (Green-West) which modifies Ohio’s forfeited land sales statute; House Bill 368 (Lepore-Hagan), which seeks to reform the state land contract law; and House Bill 737 (Arndt), which would create a bona fide purchase defense for potential property owners who invest in brownfields. GOPC has developed or worked on all three of these bills and will work with lawmakers over the next six weeks to seek their enactment. We will continue to provide updates on their progress throughout the waning days of 2018.