News & Politics

Ohio House Speaker Resigns Amid FBI Probe

Ohio Gov. John Kasich talks to Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger at Westerville Area Resource Ministry in Westerville, Ohio, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015. (Eric Albrecht/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) announced this week that he will resign, effective May 1. According to recent reports, the FBI is investigating Rosenberger’s foreign trips and his use of a luxury condo in Columbus. Rosenberger’s caucus has been plagued by sex scandals, resignations, and GOP infighting in recent months.

In a statement released Tuesday night, Rosenberger defended his actions as speaker, saying they were “ethical and lawful.”

“Meanwhile, there are many important issues facing our state that deserve careful consideration and review, and Ohioans deserve elected leaders who are able to devote their full and undivided attention to these matters,” Rosenberger said, noting that the investigation “could take months or even years to resolve.”

“Quite frankly, I’ll be up front: I think politics is a pretty dirty place right now,” Rosenberger told the Dayton Daily News last week. “I have not been subpoenaed. And as far as I know I have not been told I’m under investigation.”

In response to the probe, he reportedly lawyered up, hiring Columbus attorney David Axelrod, who has experience in white-collar crime.

Rosenberger explained, “As a precautionary measure, I went ahead and hired David Axelrod because I had been made aware and understand that the bureau is asking questions about things I may have been involved in. But that is only from a precautionary standpoint. I’m not going to answer any more questions than that.”

Rosenberger, who was elected House Speaker at age 33, rose to power quickly at the Statehouse. With a thin resume, the relative newcomer edged out veteran lawmaker Rep. Ron Amstutz for the position.

He’s reportedly being investigated for his lavish lifestyle while serving as speaker, including his extensive worldwide travel and his use of a luxury condo in downtown Columbus owned by a GOP donor.

Ohio has term limits for the legislature, so Rosenberger, 36, who has been closely aligned with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, was due to be term-limited out anyway. Now he can get a head start on his lucrative lobbying career. But the scandal could have an impact on the contentious GOP primaries slated for May. Several of the major statewide candidates have come out swinging at Rosenberger. Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, a staunch conservative who is running for governor, issued a scathing rebuke of Rosenberger:

The behavior that Speaker Rosenberger stands accused of is part and parcel of the hubris that the Columbus Establishment and good old boy network display on a regular basis. The cavalier attitude that they are somehow above the fray of comporting themselves as public servants beholden to the constituents they are sworn to represent is the reason I am running for Governor.  This is what the Swamp looks like.  And this is what I am going to erase in state government.  While I agree with the Speaker’s decision to step down, there are still many unanswered questions.  The first of which is what did Mike DeWine know that prompted his Friday call to the Speaker’s office?  The days of the Establishment are numbered.  Rosenberger is just the first.

Mike DeWine, Ohio’s current attorney general (and former senator), is running against Taylor. He reportedly spoke with Rosenberger about the probe and said he should resign if the allegations were true.

“There’s a lot of important work that the Legislature needs to get done,” DeWine said in a statement. “The Speaker has acknowledged that his presence is a distraction. It is best if he left now, so that the work of the people is not inhibited.”

If DeWine is somehow caught up in the FBI probe, as Taylor seems to be alleging, it could open up an opportunity for Taylor, who lags in the polls (the last one I saw was 54-14 in favor of DeWine). Either way, Ohio will likely end up with another Republican governor come November. The Democrats’ best hope is Richard Cordray, former head of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, who lags way behind DeWine in a head-to-head matchup—one that would feature two career politicians vying for the governor’s mansion.