Public Utilities Chairmen: the biggest question mark for the 132nd GA
By Connor Brown
At the start of each General Assembly, a flurry of activity usually ensues around Cap Square as to the new committee chairmen. Senators and House members shuffle around from various committees trying to capitalize off of new leadership and term limits to find themselves serving in their preferred committee slots. However, the start of the 132nd GA is set up to be a little less chaotic. Cap Square insiders expect there to be less shuffling around this year since most committee leadership positions seem to still be set and in place. This is for two reasons 1) the 2008 class just retired. This was the last time Democrats in the Ohio House and Senate had success, so there are very few term-limited GOP members left finishing out their term and thus opening top committee posts. 2) The House has continued its tradition of sliding in underclassman to committee leadership roles ahead of time, thus taking much of the guess work out of who will oversee a given committee for the next GA.
So while most committees will remain relatively stable, the Public Utilities Committee on both the House and Senate side remains the biggest question mark. These committees touch the lives of virtually every Ohioan and their chairmen are often showered with campaign contributions from the industries they regulate. And that question mark looms even larger if leadership takes up electric re-regulation or "restructuring" again, which utility industry leaders are requesting. There you have out going Representative Mike Dovilla still at the helm with controversial Vice-Chairman Kristina Roegner. Cap Square insiders do not expect Rep. Roegner to be named chair of the committee, pointing to (among many things) the fact that Speaker Rosenberger failed to put her in charge of the committee on April 28th, the date he asked the non-returning members to step down from committee chairmanships and appointed their underclassman replacements.
The House Public Utilities Committee will also lose some heavy hitting members such as Reps. Ron Amstutz, Jim Buchy, and Dave Hall. All depart on December 31st. This leaves a rather thin bench for Speaker Rosenberger to pull from if he selects from the current committee membership.
In the Senate, it’s a similar story: Longtime chairman Bill Seitz is leaving due to term limits to do another stint in the House. At Vice-Chair sits Senator Balderson, Chairman of Energy and Natural Resources, a post he’s likely unwilling to vacate to take over Public Utilities. (Though we heard there is talk of combining the committees under Balderson.)
So, based on various conversations around Cap Square, here’s the unofficial short list of potential chairmen for the House and Senate Public Utilities Committee:
Bill Seitz – Currently the Senate Chairman of Public Utilities. A favorite of utility lobbyists and vastly experienced. But would the Speaker put such a “Freshman” in charge of this committee? Seitz was also recently selected by Speaker Rosenberger to serve as Policy Chair. Would the Speaker allow Seitz to serve in both positions?
Jonathan Dever – Rumor has it he’s interested and willing to give up his chairmanship of Financial Institutions.
Scott Ryan- A Rosenberger loyalist who might be persuaded to give up Finance Vice Chairmanship to take over a high-profile committee.
Christina Hagan – While always interested in Agriculture and Natural Resources, Hagan knows the issues and would love to hold the same gavel her father once held.
Nathan Manning – Also close to Rosenberger and looking to take on more responsibility after proving he’s able to hold onto his competitive seat.
Gary Scherer –Scherer has a reputation as being competent and hard-working and is trusted by House leadership. It seems unlikely he would one-day pry away the gavel of Ways and Means from Tim Schaffer.
Troy Balderson – Again, if Senator President Obhof decided to combine committees.
Kevin Bacon – Bacon would likely be willing to give up his chairmanship of Civil Justice for a more high profile committee like Public Utilities.
Lou Terhar – Currently lobbying for the post, but has never served on public utilities before. Nonetheless he is close to industry lobbyists and respected by his colleagues.
Bill Coley – The current chairman of Government Oversight and Reform.
John Eklund – Eklund is currently the Chair of Criminal Justice, but it’s more likely that he becomes the next chair of Financial Institutions, given Hughes departure.
Matt Huffman – Senator Huffman is making his return to state government and will likely become a close confidant of President Obhof. He would come to the position as a very experienced Freshman.