A Contract with the Caucus
By Cyndy Rees
As the Republican caucus struggles to recover from the disgraceful Rosenburglar Era, its members face one fundamental question: Do they paper over the systemic, cultural rot born of their former leader’s laziness and arrogance, hoping that gerrymandered districts and a fundraising advantage will save them? Or do they actually begin the hard work of reform right now, taking the Speaker’s departure for what it is: A gift. A chance to prove to voters that the Republican Party in Ohio is still capable of responsible governance and real conservative leadership on kitchen table issues that matter to everyday Ohioans.
Yes, whom they select as their Speaker will be the most closely-watched signal of their new (or not new) direction. That is at its heart why regardless of whether he has or does not have criminal exposure in the same manner Rosenberger evidently does, Ryan Smith would be the absolute worst choice the caucus could make. It’s no secret that Ryan and Cliff were best buddies, roomies, and joint hatchers of the plan to both serve as Speaker, one after the other. Frick and Frack. Smithberger. At first, It seemed like a pretty slick alliance, and one Smith benefited from as he led the House’s most powerful committee and wielded outsized caucus influence. But when Frick is enveloped in scandal and unceremoniously steps aside, the caucus can hardly tell voters, “hey we got this. Frack is going to step in!” Average Ohioans may not pay close attention to the state legislature, but they’re not stupid either. And in short order, guys like Cordray, Dettlebach, and Space will have the resources to make that narrative stick. With a liberal media all too happy to cooperate.
However, while the caucus needs to pick the right person for the job, just as important are the reforms needed immediately. They will be painful, but are required if the caucus is to regain its credibility. Like Newt Gingrich’s famous “Contract with America,” the “Contract with the Caucus” should include the following.
- A pledge of total cooperation and transparency regarding the ongoing FBI investigation. If Nathan Manning’s lawyer is telling him to be quiet, fine. But then he must resign or be expelled from the institution. Come clean in a public interview with no questions off limits, or go the way of Rosenberger. Period. The entire caucus should send him an open letter to this effect tomorrow.
- A pledge that all caucus resources will be spent prudently, even frugally. Clothes, foreign travel, expensive meals, stupid gifts, and alcohol of any kind are no longer approvable expenses and every penny will be put to use to elect conservatives. The slush fund—even if technically legal—is over.
- A pledge that Rosenberger will be pursued aggressively, and if needed, to the fullest extent of the law to pay back the caucus for all of the lavish spending that is now so well documented. The meals, the trips, the clothes…. Tally it up and send him a bill. Publicly. Resignation was step one but this cash needs to be repaid right now and put to the use for which it was contributed: electing conservatives. Anything short is just sweeping it under the rug. It is critically important symbolically and as a matter of fairness that he repays these costs. And no Ginni can’t pay it for him.
- A pledge to immediately sell at auction all of the remaining ridiculous swag OHROC has in inventory. You know somewhere there’s a Vineyard Vines box full of whale belts and sportcoats with elbow patches. It goes on ebay tonight, with all proceeds to the caucus.
- A pledge of accountability for the degrading attitude so many men in the caucus display toward women. For starters, Seitz and Perales should be immediately stripped of leadership titles and all committee assignments, shunned for the shame they have brought upon the House. The caucus has not yet come to grips with the fact that Rosenberger’s flashy spending and the cavalier attitude Seitz showed about sexual harassment at the infamous Roast are symptoms of the same disease: a narcissistic arrogance that “I’m untouchable” and the rules apply to everyone else but not to me. It’s the same mentality that led Seitz to announce his intention to double dip on pension benefits days after his Roast comments. When it comes to its attitude toward women, lip service is not enough. The caucus desperately needs to say to Seitz and Perales, “#time’s up.” Then and only then we will know they actually get it. Anything short is just bullshit.
- A pledge to immediately cease spending all caucus resources against fellow Republicans. This should not require explanation.
- Rosenberger’s senior staff should be fired immediately. Nothing personal, but their job was to protect the boss and instead we got what we got. A fresh start and a new culture is simply not possible without cleaning out the ranks of senior staff.
- A pledge to make caucus meetings subject to the Open Meeting laws. Why is it that every major policy decision in Ohio is decided behind closed doors by 66 people who then act like students in a school play, following their roles and reading their lines, when the public process plays out? Break open the caucus doors. Effective today. Dare the Democrats not to follow suit.
- A pledge to require Governor Kasich to actually do his job, or else pay back his salary and face removal proceedings. The state’s Republican Governor has checked out of Ohio for the express purpose of trashing the sitting Republican president and challenging him in 2020. And in a state where the President won by 8 points, the Republican General Assembly gives him a pass? From the moment Kasich boycotted the Republican convention in his home state, the legislature should have made his tenure a living hell. Instead, they privately grumble and hope things will get better under Mike DeWine. The ostensibly conservative Ohio House should be steamrolling this guy whose staff is already out the door anyway.
- A pledge to immediately roll back Medicaid expansion. None of these Republicans wanted it in the first place. Can anyone explain why a veto-proof legislature is standing for this?
- Speaking of Trump, a pledge to immediately pass a bill making the public utilities give back their corporate tax cut to Ohioans on the electric bill. Ohio’s monopolies are singlehandedly trying to pocket the dividend from President Trump’s signature legislative achievement, even while consumers already cover the company’s taxes. The state public utilities commission is “investigating,” but the Legislature should be jumping at the chance to put this money into their constituents’ pockets so Trump’s tax cut is realized. Before they leave town.
- And while we’re at it, a pledge to actually have some courage. Do Republican leaders think payday lending is a legitimate source of capital for low(er) income Americans, or are they legalized usury? Are online schools a welcome options to offer students and parents, or deservedly closed by ODE bureaucrats? Is the Cosmetology bill good policy or not? These issues have festered in Ohio for over a year and to this day we have no real idea where the party actually stands. How refreshing would it be to see the next Speaker take some decisive action on key issues of the day?
The above is a start, and only a start. If the year is to be salvaged, and the Republicans want to keep their majority, it will require the House to confront itself honestly. To be genuinely accountable and get things done that actually matter to the state. Half-measures (sensitivity training, anyone?) won’t work and before long, the narrative of “chaos in Columbus” will have set like concrete. The next few weeks will be some of the most telling in modern Ohio political history. And 3rd Rail will be watching.
Do you have other ideas for the Contract with the Caucus? Light up our anonymous tip line with your suggestions and we will publish the good ones.