The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that State Senator Tim Grendell (R-Chesterland) has made it official:  he’s going to refuse to take the House seat he won earlier this month and will finish out his term in State Senate instead.

Outgoing Senate President Bill Harris… is glad that Tim Grendell isn’t his problem anymore.

"I think I’d be obligated to serve in the seat that I was elected to serve in," he said. "That’s Bill Harris. Sen. Grendell has to decide for himself what he wants to do and for what reasons."

Meanwhile, conservative blogger Scott Pullins has created a web petition asking the State Senate to expel Grendell from the Senate.

The Ohio Senate could simply expel Tim Grendell from its ranks because of his unethical actions.  Ohio’s Constitution grants authority to the Ohio Senate to expel a member by a two-thirds vote of its membership.  No reason is required for an expulsion, but certainly fraud upon the voters is a good start.

Pullins makes a similar argument that I made during the Marc Dann affair—whether talking about impeachment of the judiciary or executive or expulsion of one of their own, the legislature’s powers are only checked by the people who elect them.  As such, there really is no constitutional standard for the legislature to remove someone from office but the political will and ability to do it.  Therefore, the standard for impeachment isn’t a legal one, but a political one—is the majority of legislatures willing to justify their action (or inaction) to the people who elect them and are they confident they can persuade voters there was a rational reason to exercises such rarely used powers?

In Dann’s case, there was a Republican majority (along with a unified Democratic minority in support) of Dann’s impeachment.  The only remaining question is did the legislature have the will to act and did the public give them any pause?  We’ll never know the answer to the first question, although it seemed to be yes, and there seemed to be little political risk that voters would have punished the legislature had they so acted.  Instead, there seemed to be a growing popular sentiment to see Dann gone.

However, the opposite is true in this case.  Particularly, the political math.  In this circumstance, the clear majority would be inclined against removal of one of their own party’s members.  Therefore, there is a question whether the necessary majority for removal is even possible.  Second, while there seems to be a public sentiment that what Grendell is doing is not right, I don’t know if it’s so strong that they’d want him to resign or be forcefully removed.

The legislature’s ability to remove its own members is an extraordinary remedy and one they are reluctant to employ when it is essentially them overturning the will of the voters they represent.  Therefore, the intent is to remove members who engaged in wrongdoing.  But is serving the rest of your Senate term instead of taking another political office you were elected wrongdoing in your position as a State Senator?  No, it’s just your failure as a politician  to recognize the will of the people.

Grendell could even convince his Democratic colleagues that the Senate’s ability to remove a member was never intended for such a purpose as to “punish” him for refusing to leave the Senate and take his House seat.

Let’s not forget we’re talking about politicians here.  Grendell continues to maintain that this has nothing to do with any desire to see his wife be appointed to replace him if he had left the Senate.  But even if he wasn’t telling the truth, such swapping of seats is hardly unique to Grendell, as Thomas Suddes pointed out over the weekend. 

So perverse and prevalent is the practice of seat swapping in the General Assembly as a means to skirt term limits, it’s common for a member of the House and a member of a Senate of the same party with overlapping districts to coordinate their switches back and forth so both can stay in the legislature and avoid term limits.

For that reason, I suspect that Grendell will, at worst, get a seat in the back of the State Senate, but nothing more substantive.  I could be wrong, so that’s no reason not to consider signing Scott’s petition.

[UPDATE:] The Sun News is reporting that the Geauga County Republican Party is considering some form of “punishment” against Grendell, but the only thing they can do is send a strongly worded letter as they fight amongst themselves as who gets the appointment to “replace” him in the Ohio House of Representatives. 

[Geauga County GOP Chairman Ed] Ryder said Grendell’s game of playing musical chairs with his Senate and House seat is “inconceivable to party members and voters.”

“I have been inundated with calls and e-mails opposed to Grendell’s actions,” he said.

Representative-elect Tim Grendell has not returned phone calls in over a week.

Again, he says his staying in the State Senate to ensure his constituents are well and adequately represented… by a guy who won’t take their phone calls.

 

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