By Jim Siegel
Facing an FBI investigation into his overseas travel and a nasty leadership fight to succeed him that is ripping at his caucus, House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger said Tuesday he is resigning from office.
"I believe my actions as speaker have been both ethical and lawful; however, I understand the nature of this inquiry has the potential to be very demanding and intensive, and it could take months or even years," Rosenberger told The Dispatch.
"There are many important issues that face the state of Ohio. Ohioans deserve elected leaders who are able to devote their full and undivided attention to those matters."
Rosenberger, who is in the final year of his term, told his Republican caucus Tuesday night that he will resign from the House effective May 1. Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, the current No. 2 leader, will take over as speaker until the House votes for a new leader to serve until the end of the year.
Rosenberger said no one asked him to resign but that a few colleagues tried to talk him out of it. He stressed that he does not think he did anything wrong, despite FBI inquiries.
"I'm not going to put my members and my staff through having to keep having microphones put in their faces, having to go through any issues I'm going through," he said. "I want to make sure good stuff can still get going."
Rosenberger, now two weeks shy of his 37th birthday, was one of Ohio's youngest speakers and the first Asian-American to hold the position. He used a mix of charm and a gregarious personality to win over members who picked him to lead the House at the start of 2015.
The resignation announcement came days after Rosenberger said he had hired an attorney because the FBI was asking questions about situations that involved him. Sources have said those inquiries are related largely to at least one overseas trip he took to England late last summer.
Rosenberger said he has not been personally approached by the FBI nor subpoenaed. But, he said, he doesn't want a cloud hanging over the House.
"My purpose for doing this is not one of guilt, but one, quite frankly, proof that the Ohio House of Representatives is more than one person."
A battle has raged between Reps. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, and Larry Householder, R-Glenford, to become speaker in 2019, when Rosenberger would have had to depart because of term limits. Rosenberger is close with Smith, and the two of them have been getting beat up online for months, particularly on a Householder-friendly website, Third Rail Politics.
"I think there are people leaking this and making stories worse than they are, and doing things to compound this based on the speaker's race," Rosenberger said.
Rosenberger has taken several trips across the country and overseas, with the costs often picked up by campaign funds or outside groups such as GOPAC or the National Conference of State Legislatures. They have included trips to England, France, Italy and Israel.
He also rents a luxury Downtown condo from Ginni Ragan, an advocate for the elderly and top House GOP contributor.
The FBI reportedly is looking at whether Rosenberger took too much advantage of the perks of the job. That includes a four-day trip in late August paid for by the GOPAC Education Fund's Institute for Leadership Development, where Rosenberger met British officials and toured Parliament.
Reportedly, there are questions about whether the payday-lending industry actually funded the trip. A title-lender lobbyist in Ohio, Steve Dimon, was on the trip.
On his recent financial-disclosure statement, Manning lists GOPAC as a creditor that he owes at least $1,000.
In late September, Rosenberger and Manning attended an NCSL-sponsored trip to France that, according to the speaker's schedule, also extended to Italy. The France conference had five sponsors, including Ragan and national payday lender Advance America.
Rosenberger said he will cooperate with the FBI and is confident he will be vindicated.
"I have a problem when my honor and integrity gets questioned. I'm going to defend my honor and integrity," he said.
Rosenberger said he made the decision to resign Tuesday and has no immediate plan on what he will do next.
As acting speaker and dean of the House GOP caucus, Schuring will decide when to call for the election of a new speaker. Lawmakers are expected to leave for a summer break by the end of May and could be gone through the November election.
Gov. John Kasich called Rosenberger a friend and valued partner.
"I am sorry to hear this news but respect him for making a decision that he believes is right for our state and the people and institutions for which he cares deeply," he said.
Kasich's lieutenant governor, Mary Taylor, who is running for governor, said, "This is what the Swamp looks like. And this is what I am going to erase in state government."
On the other side, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said: "Generally, innocent people don't resign within days of a revelation of a federal investigation." He, like Taylor, also questioned Attorney General Mike DeWine's call to Rosenberger on Friday night, when DeWine -- also a GOP candidate for governor -- said he told Rosenberger to bow out if he was guilty of anything. Pepper said that "raises questions about whether it was appropriate for a law enforcement official to contact someone under federal investigation."
(c)2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)