How Cliff Rosenberger Became Speaker Part III – Personnel is Policy

By Connor Brown


Morton Blackwell is a legendary conservative political activist and Founder and President of the Leadership Institute.  Over the years the Leadership Institute has trained generations of young conservative activists including some of those now laboring here at 3rd Rail Politics.  


Over the decades, Mr. Blackwell has formulated a number of maxims about politics;  what he now calls The Laws of the Public Policy Process.  But in the selection of Cliff Rosenberger to be Speaker of the Ohio House, the formidable set of leaders around him miscalculated, and violated a number of these important rules.  In our final chapter of this story we will explain how this happened, but first, its important to reintroduce to you the impressive cast of Ohio political legends that were assembled to support Rosenberger.  We have previously profiled some of this history and these figures in our series the Epoch of Cavemen, Part 1 and Part 2.  If you haven’t read it yet, it’s certainly worth the look.


Prominent among Rosenberger’s supporters, while publicly neutral, was outgoing Speaker Bill Batchelder.  There are those on the right that would argue, maybe even correctly, that the Speakership of Bill Batchelder did not accomplish as many conservative goals as they would have expected from the legendary figure.  The same can be said of Ronald Reagan too, but perhaps that is why the Speaker chose the young Rosenberger to succeed him.  A young, eager, wet behind the ears Speaker would be much easier to guide and control.  At least in theory.


Batchelder would be out of office but he would be ensconced, down the street from the Riffe Tower at the new firm founded by his longtime former aides, Troy Judy and Chad Hawley, now renamed The Batchelder Company.  


Serving as his Speaker Pro Tem would be longtime legislator Ron Amstutz.  Amstutz was first elected to the Ohio General Assembly in 1980 in the Reagan landslide.  He quickly rose to be a key member of the “caveman caucus” and had long served on the board of the United Conservatives of Ohio. Facing term limits he ran for and was elected to the Ohio Senate in 2000 and served there for eight years, most of that time as the powerful Chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee that oversees tax policy.  


After returning to the Ohio House in 2008 and Republicans regaining the majority in 2010, Amstutz served for two terms as Chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee.  After agreeing to a deal as we outlined in Part 1, Ron Amstuz, who first joined the Ohio General Assembly the year Rosenberger was born, would be his Speaker Pro Tem.


Rounding out this powerful, conservative triumvirate was State Representative Jim Buchy.  Representative Buchy was first elected in 1982 to the minority in the Ohio House.  He was a key leader in the caveman caucus and the United Conservatives of Ohio.  As a prosperous small business owner he also brought some common sense, down to earth credibility to the otherwise deep thinker conservatives in the Ohio House.  


When term limited in 2000 he partnered briefly with the political establishment but was defeated in the Ohio Senate primary by a younger, more aggressive conservative, Jim Jordan.  Buchy returned to the Ohio General Assembly in 2011 and would have been the likely Speaker if it were not for a bad fall he took as outlined in Part 1 of this series.  Instead, Jim Buchy would serve under Rosenberger as his Assistant Majority Whip.  


So, as established under this arrangement, Cliff Rosenberger, then age 33, would be anointed as Speaker.  But close behind him would be a triumvirate of seasoned, Ohio conservative legislators to keep him in check.  


Or so they thought.  


Which brings us back to The Laws of the Public Policy Process.


Rule 18 is “You can’t save the world if you can’t pay the rent.”  What this means is that you cannot do good conservative public policy when a public official’s motivations are actually about finding their next job, or even a job.  In Part 2 of this series we described Cliff Rosenberger’s career prior to being elected to the Ohio General Assembly.  Essentially, he worked as a part time member of the Air National Guard while slowly finishing his bachelors degree.  In the meantime, he had bounced around at a handful of short term, low level political jobs.  These include an internship in the George W. Bush White House, an advance job on the 2008 Romney campaign, and then another short term advance job for the Secretary of the Interior.


When Vern Riffe and Larry Householder became Speaker they both had successful and lucrative insurance agencies that they had run for many years. Jo Ann Davidson had worked full time for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce prior to her election to leadership.  Bill Batchelder, as earlier explained, had a successful law practice and many investments.  Armond Budish, the one term Democrat Speaker, also had a lucrative law practice.  Jon Husted had worked for the Dayton area chamber and other nonprofit organizations and his wife was and is a very financially successful realtor.  


We have seen the results of this play out through the Speakership of Cliff Rosenberger.  A large donor essentially bought him a large, luxurious condo, in downtown Columbus.  Ryan Smith, for whom the donor also purchased a condo, said he moved out because he couldn’t afford the rent.  Rosenberger disclosed in his latest personal financial disclosures that he owed back rent.  Its unclear how much and whether or not he will ever pay it back.


We’ve also seen worse things play out through this process.  


Ryan Smith, Rosenberger’s pick as Finance Chairman and his anointed candidate for Speaker, has used his position apparently to try and obtain personal financial benefits.  As 3rd Rail Politics wrote in February, one of Smith’s first priorities was to repeatedly attempt to push through an earmark of $1.5 million to Holzer Hospital.  Smith had served as a paid board member up to and including some of the time he served as a State Representative.  


More importantly, his financial services company, Smith Financial Advisors, has invested money for Holzer Hospital and presumably continues to do so. Likewise, Holzer Hospital, like other hospitals, has benefited financially from Medicaid Expansion.  Smith’s personal financial disclosures shows annual income of $100,000 or more from each year from his partnership in this company.


Rosenberger has also gotten into the act.  In the last budget cycle he inserted an earmark of $5 million to set up a State Leadership Institute at The Ohio State University.  It was widely rumored that he expected to use the institute as a landing pad for future employment.  Many statehouse observers believed that Rosenberger and Smith “gave away the store” in budget negotiations in order to secure this earmark.


So, say what you want about State Representatives Amstutz, Batchelder, and Buchy.  Perhaps they mellowed as they aged and became a little more moderate.  But they always played it straight and never used the system to blatantly try and enrich themselves.  


There are some other of Morton’s rules that, with hindsight, have been violated in the selection of Cliff Rosenberger.  Let’s start with Rule 26, “Personnel is policy.”  What this means is that you cannot expect to put a moderate to liberal official into office and have them govern like a conservative.  And clearly, Cliff Rosenberger is no conservative.


Most recently, Rosenberger praised the election of a Democrat in the Alabama special Senate election. In fact, Rosenberger went even further calling the Democrat a good guy.  And when the socially conservative Ohio Christian Alliance asked for an investigation of sexual harassment at the Statehouse, his spokesman slammed them back hard saying, “It is a shame that an organization like this would resort to spreading lies and politicizing this issue in an effort to distract from the facts,” he said. “We have been, and will continue to be, fully transparent and responsive in these matters.”


Rosenberger reluctantly endorsed Trump but then backed Matt Borges in his ill-fated attempt to remain Chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.


And then we have perhaps the biggest issue of the decade in the Ohio General Assembly, Medicaid Expansion.  Rosenberger has always said that he opposes it. Rosenberger repeatedly refused to bring a veto override up to a vote claiming he doesn’t have the 60 votes needed for passage.  This is despite the fact that every Ohio conservative group including the Buckeye Institute and Americans for Prosperity want a vote to go to the floor.


Two more of Morton Blackwell’s rules are worth noting.  Rule No. 24 is “Actions have consequences”.  Rule No. 21 is “An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.”


In their hope for a 3rd term for Speaker Bill Batchelder, conservative leaders placed someone into the office who had, unbeknownst to them, other more insidious plans.  Now, as Speaker Rosenberger faces his own term limits, he hopes to have his own 3rd term by placing his close friend, Ryan Smith, into the job.


Perhaps that’s why top lobbying firms like VanMeter Ashbrook and others are so supportive of State Representative Larry Householder. They’ve had to learn a very painful lesson about the Laws of the Public Policy Process and won’t be fooled again.  

Readers of 3rd Rail Politics, stay tuned.  We may have a 4th edition of this chapter, and please keep those anonymous tips coming! Share a Tip