Public Policy: Rise of Speaker of the Ohio House Cliff Rosenberger

The Ohio Constitution mandates change in state government on a regular basis. Democratic Party leaders hoping to stop Governor Jim Rhodes from serving forever enacted term limits for the Governor’s office. It didn’t work—Rhodes sat out four years and came back for two more terms. The other statewide Constitutional offices, Attorney General, Auditor, Treasurer and Secretary of State all have two four-year term limits as well. As if that was not enough change, voters in the 1990s enacted term limits for members of the Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio Senate. House members get four two-year terms and Senate members get two four-year terms.

The results of term limits have not been what the advocates hoped for. First, legislators trade between House and Senate seats like kids my generation used to trade baseball cards. This is a good thing as it ensures veteran lawmakers are in both the House and Senate. Second, statewide elected officials also trade offices. John Kasich and Ted Strickland aside, if you want to be Governor, it is not a bad strategy to be elected to another statewide office first. It worked for Jim Rhodes. Third, the Ohio General Assembly regularly is forced to replace veteran legislators who become important leaders in their caucus with new blood, but this new blood is not the “citizen-legislator” the naïve term limits supporters wanted.

CliffRosenbergerCliff Rosenberger proves this point. When veteran Speaker of the House of Representatives Bill Batchelder reached his term limit, it created an opportunity for new leadership in the Ohio House. At first, it looked like the “new” leadership would really be a battle between long-serving veteran legislators Ron Amstutz and Jim Buchy. Amstutz was elected to the Ohio House the first time in the 1980s, served in the General Assembly ever since and recently served as Chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee. Buchy served in the General Assembly in the 1980s and 90s, returned to the House when a seat in his district opened up and is a close friend and conservative ideological ally of Speaker Batchelder. However, before the battle lines could really be drawn, Buchy decided not to run for Speaker.

Enter 33-year-old Cliff Rosenberger. Representative Rosenberger will be starting his third term in the Ohio House of Representatives, represents a rural, Southwest Ohio district and will be the next Speaker of the Ohio House. How did Representative Rosenberger pull this off? First, Rosenberger is a very good legislator. He not only serves his constituents well, but scores points as Chairman of the Ohio House Finance Higher Ed Subcommittee Chairman. Rosenberger traveled the state to meet with state higher education leaders, made substantial changes to the Kasich Administration budget and was seen as a successful advocate for his budget. Second, Rosenberger, while young, has a strong political background in campaigns and policy including a stint in the Bush White House. He understands the intersection of policy and politics. Finally, Rosenberger gained the support of Representative Buchy and the internal and external political machine of Speaker Batchelder. While Batchelder never publicly expressed support for his replacement, Rosenberger had Batch’s staff and fundraising support with the Buchy connection. Term limits cost Ohio Bill Batchelder twice, but it also gave us strong, new leaders like Cliff Rosenberger. Maybe term limits are not all bad.