Legislative leader wields power after budget vote

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 19, 2005

It happens every other summer. The Legislature votes on the budget, then the chairs start falling.

Sen. Lynn Wachtmann, a Napoleon Republican who twice voted against this year's budget bill, had his committee chairmanship and the $6,500 a year that goes with it yanked last week by Senate President Bill Harris, an Ashland Republican.

Harris insists Wacthmann's removal from the Health, Human Services & Aging Committee wasn't budget-related, that he was just moving new members into leadership roles. Wachtmann, an ardent tax foe who doesn't like a new tax on commercial sales, did not buy it.

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"I gave him my 'Give me a break, Mr. President' look," Wachtmann told Gongwer News Service, a daily news report for subscribers who track state government. A message was left for Wachtmann seeking further comment.

Harris acknowledged that the timing might look suspect.

"It was a good time to do it. I'm not going to debate whether it (Wachtmann's budget vote) had anything to do with it," Harris said Friday. "I wanted to talk to Lynn person-to-person. I didn't want talk to him at a later date."

Harris has used his power over the GOP caucus before. In March, he tossed Sen. Tim Grendell, a Chesterland Republican, off a House-Senate committee that makes rules for state agencies after Grendell criticized the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for wanting to establish parking fees at state parks. Lawmakers removed the fees in the budget bill.

Both Wachtmann and Grendell have said they were responding to the wishes of their constituents.

It's all been done before.

Larry Householder, a Republican who succeeded Davidson and now is the Perry County auditor, didn't shy away from his power, either.

Householder pulled Rep. John Willamowski of Lima out of the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee and booted Mary Taylor of Green and Steve Buehrer of Delta off the budget-writing Finance Committee after their 2003 votes against the budget, which included a $3 billion increase in taxes. All are Republicans.

Householder also said new legislators needed experience in the era of term limits, although Willamowski's replacement had served in the Ohio Senate for 17 years.

Willamowski also voted against the $51 billion budget last month, but Speaker Jon Husted, a suburban Dayton Republican, hasn't punished him or other Republicans who voted against it, Willamowski said.

"The current speaker has reappointed me (as chairman) and asked me to work hard on the issues," Willamowski said. "Husted has been real good to work with. … When I need to be with Jon, he's available. There are no threats going on."

Harris said he won't hold a grudge. He said Grendell was disappointed about his removal from the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review.

"There will be a time when he will get another opportunity. I don't pout about these things," Harris said.

John McCarthy writes for the Associated Press in Columbus.