Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers to leave Congress next month

Former NRCC chair will lead state’s chamber of commerce

Ohio GOP Rep. Steve Stivers says he will leave Congress next month to run his state's chamber of commerce. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Ohio GOP Rep. Steve Stivers says he will leave Congress next month to run his state's chamber of commerce. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 19, 2021 at 10:43am, Updated at 11:50am

Ohio Republican Steve Stivers, who had been viewed as a possible candidate for the state’s open Senate seat, said Monday he would depart the House next month to take a lobbying job instead.

The former bank executive plans to join the Ohio Chamber of Commerce as president and CEO, he said on Twitter

Stivers’ 15th District is the second seat in the Ohio House delegation to go vacant this year. The state was already preparing for a special election in the 11th District in November to replace Democrat Marcia L. Fudge, who resigned to become secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The Aug. 3 Democratic primary for Fudge’s seat will likely be the real contest in the deep-blue district.

News of Stivers’ departure, which he said would be “effective May 16,” came after earlier speculation that he could run for Senate to succeed retiring Republican Rob Portman. Stivers’ campaign disclosed hauling in nearly $1.4 million in the first quarter of this year.

Some Republicans were already aware that the Ohio Chamber of Commerce was pursuing Stivers.

“This has been talked about on and off for weeks, if not months, in Republican circles,” said Bruce Cuthbertson, who was an aide to former Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio. He said the rumors went back and forth as to whether Stivers would run for Senate or take the chamber offer.

Republicans in the running for Portman’s seat have sought the backing of former President Donald Trump, whom Stivers criticized for not doing enough to stop the Capitol attack on Jan. 6.

“The president should have done much more to stop this and, unfortunately, he did not do enough to stop this, and in some cases, encouraged it and that’s unfortunate and I think that is absolutely wrong,” Stivers said after the attack, according to news reports.

Few names have emerged as potential successors to Stivers, in part because all House districts will be redrawn to reflect the results of the 2020 census. Ohio is also “very, very likely” to lose a seat when the House is reapportioned, according to Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio.

That could mean that Stivers’ district, which includes parts of Columbus and the liberal college town of Athens and was crafted from parts of four other districts after the state lost two seats following the 2010 census, could be one that disappears in redistricting.

“Some people might be keeping their powder dry because they want to see what the district looks like,” Cuthbertson said.

Background as banking lobbyist

Stivers’ new job is a return to his professional roots. Before joining Congress, he worked as a lobbyist for Bank One.

His background in banking and securities fostered his preference for deregulation in the industry. In 2018, language from two of his bills became law. Included in a comprehensive banking measure was a proposal he introduced to require states to issue temporary licenses to make it easier for registered loan originators to transition between bank and nonbank entities or from one state to another. The other, which requires the Securities and Exchange Commission to simplify the offering, filing and registration procedures for business development companies, was added to an omnibus appropriations bill.

Stivers also focused on veterans’ mental health. “I know people, friends, who committed suicide after serving,” he told CQ Roll Call in 2017. “We have a mental health crisis in this country. … Starting with veterans is the easiest thing to do because we have a Veterans Administration that’s supposed to help them.”

In his announcement Monday, Stivers said he was excited about the move, adding that it would allow him to continue promoting “policies that drive our economy forward, get folks to work, and put our fiscal house in order.”

Stivers chaired House Republicans’ campaign arm in the 2018 election cycle. After Democrats reclaimed the majority, he did not seek a second term running the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Stivers, at times, clashed with hard-line conservatives in his own party and, during the Trump era, decried the lack of civility in the nation’s politics. “Our politics have gotten very partisan and personal,” he said in 2018, noting his effort with fellow Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty, a Democrat, to create the Congressional Civility & Respect Caucus. The point of that caucus, he said in a news release at the time, was “to show people there is a better way and to help all 300 million Americans understand there is a way you can disagree without being disagreeable.”

GOP angered at corporations

Stivers’ move to the business lobby comes as members of his party have stepped up criticism of the corporate sector in response to the backlash from some businesses against efforts by GOP state legislators to enact new election laws, including voter identification requirements.

For example, Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, recently wrote in an op-ed that “virtue signaling” by corporations, such as moving Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game out of Georgia, would have policy consequences from Republicans.  

“There will be no number of well-connected lobbyists you can hire to save you,” Scott wrote. “There will be no amount of donations you can make that will save you.”

Stivers was first elected in 2010, unseating Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy. He won a sixth term in November by 27 points, nearly twice Trump’s winning margin in the district of 14 points.

Stivers serves on the House Financial Services panel and is the top Republican on its Housing, Community Development and Insurance Subcommittee.

Financial Services is a committee that not only sets up lawmakers to raise campaign money but also can position them for lucrative gigs after Congress. 

“Rep. Stivers is a great get for the Ohio Chamber,” said lobbying headhunter Ivan Adler, who runs the recruiting firm Ivan Adler Associates. “His Financial Services Committee experience will come in handy when advocating for their issues.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a statement Monday calling Stivers “a true friend of business.”

The previous head of the Ohio chamber, Andrew E. Doehrel, who announced his retirement last year, made $570,000, according to 2018 tax documents filed by the organization. 

Though it’s unusual for sitting lawmakers to depart Capitol Hill early for a lobbying job, it does happen. Tiberi, for example, left Congress early to take the reins of the Ohio Business Roundtable in January 2018.

Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.