When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gaveled in the 116th Congress last month, she also gaveled in an Ohio U.S. House delegation that’s far less powerful than it has been in recent years.
Just a few years ago, the state was not only home of the speaker of the House, but in the early part of the decade had members in key positions of power. Now because many of those lawmakers have left and been replaced by people with less seniority, the state is a bit of an afterthought.
Contributing to the lack of power is the fact that while Democrats seized control of the House after the November election, 12 of the 16 members of the Ohio delegation are Republicans. In this Congress, Republicans in the minority have little clout at all.
“It’s a 12–4 Republican House delegation and it’s a Democratic House now,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “So that invariably lends to the caucus having a little bit less sway.”
It’s also a shift for the four Democrats who were all relegated to the back benches. They now have the power.
None have committee chairmanships, though two — Reps. Tim Ryan, D–Niles, and Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo — are chairs of the appropriations committee’s subcommittee on the Legislative Branch and Energy and Water Development, respectively.
Columbus-area Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Township, chairs the Financial Services Committee’s newly–created subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion, serves as vice-chair of the powerful Congressional Black Caucus and is considered a key ally of House Speaker Pelosi. She was also named to a regional whip position in Pelosi’s leadership team.
Beatty is a Dayton native and a graduate of Central State University.
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D–Cleveland, is chair of a newly-developed House Administration Committee’s subcommittee on elections.
Despite the Democrats’ smaller presence, said Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University, “Ohio’s Democratic delegation is in a good position to exercise influence on behalf of the state and constituents.”
Still, it’s a far cry from where the delegation once stood.
As recently as 2015, Ohioan John Boehner was the House Speaker, second in line to the presidency. But even before that, Ohio Republicans held seniority on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and key Appropriations subcommittees.
During a period in the 1980s and early 1990s, when the delegation had 21 members, then-Rep. Mike Oxley chaired the House Financial Services Committee. Then-Rep. Deborah Pryce served as GOP conference chair. Then-Reps. David Hobson and Ralph Regula were appropriations subcommittee chairs and then-Rep. John Kasich chaired the House Budget Committee.
Paul Beck, an emeritus political science professor at The Ohio State University, said Ryan and Fudge have landed subcommittee chairmanships despite appearing to rebel against Pelosi’s speakership. But on the flip side, Beatty “emerged probably as the most influential of the four” because of her “unstinting support for Pelosi.”
That — and her position as vice-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus — means she’s one to watch, said David Cohen of the University of Akron’s Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.
“Beatty hasn’t been there that long, but she’s moving up the ranks quickly, and aligning herself with Pelosi was politically smart,” Cohen said.
He said despite rebelling against Pelosi, Ryan — who ultimately voted for Pelosi on the floor of the House — has done well for himself. His spot as the Appropriations Subcommittee Chair in charge of Legislative Affairs means Ryan is “essentially the mayor of Capitol Hill.”
The position, he said, “allows you to be a real kingpin and a dealmaker,” which can only help someone who Cohen said “now has a national profile.”
“Pelosi very smartly didn’t strip him of his chairmanship,” he said.
And Kaptur’s position at the head of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee also has cache, he said, particularly with that subcommittee’s jurisdiction over Great Lakes issues.
What does power change mean for Republican members?
Among Republicans, the power equation has shifted dramatically. Beck said of all the 12 Ohio Republican lawmakers, perhaps the most influential is Rep. Jim Jordan, R–Urbana, who is both a close ally of President Donald Trump and the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
That’s a change, too. Jordan was once considered a spoiler for the GOP and many in Ohio’s Republican delegation blamed him when Boehner decided to retire in 2015.
“At least those who are not part of the Freedom Caucus consider him to be kind of a grandstander, a thorn in their side,” Beck said.
Now, Jordan will be the chief defender of Trump on a committee tasked with oversight of the president. Whether that translates to power, said Kondik, is very much in question.
Jordan also serves on the Judiciary Committee.
“It depends on how you define powerful,” Kondik said. “If powerful is press appearance and closeness to the president, then maybe Jordan is powerful. But I don’t think even in his caucus Jordan wields much power.”
Locally, since all of the region’s members of Congress are Republicans, they are now in the minority.
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, serves as the ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. He chaired the subcommittee in the last Congress when Republicans held the majority. Turner also serves on the Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, serves on the Financial Services Committee where he serves on the Subcommittee on Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship and Capital Markets and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa and International Terrorism. Chabot also serves on the Judiciary Committee and is the ranking member of the Small Business Committee.