Dayton state senator not showing up to vote

Sen. Niraj Antani says missing voting sessions is protest against ineffective leadership

The state senator who represents Dayton and its southwest suburbs in the Ohio General Assembly hasn’t come to work in the Statehouse in months and has one of the worst attendance records in the Senate, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.

This means the Dayton region has lacked representation not only in committee hearings and floor votes, but also in efforts to tap into hundreds of millions of dollars set aside for local projects.

State Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., blames the bulk of his nine Senate floor absences and many more committee absences on a frayed relationship with the Senate president, a general ineffectiveness of the Senate and an unsuccessful Congressional campaign.

“I didn’t go to the Statehouse and I’m not in public service to make friends. It is to do a job,” Antani said. “Now, the irony there is that you’re writing an article about me missing a handful of votes. But, to me, I still see this as part of doing the job, right?”

Antani has missed the last three Senate voting sessions in a streak that started soon after he placed 10th in March’s 11-candidate Republican primary for a U.S. Congressional seat outside his district. The last post on his previously active X account is his concession in that race.

Following his recent absences, the Dayton Daily News obtained attendance records from the 2023-2024 General Assembly. Those records show:

- Antani’s nine absences from voting sessions equates to missing nearly a third of the total votes the Senate has taken this General Assembly, and is more than twice that of nearly all other senators. The only senator who has missed more sessions has missed them because of severe health complications.

- Antani, who has sat on four committees — one of which he draws a stipend for — has missed more committee hearings than he attended this General Assembly session. In one committee, he was absent six times before being permanently removed.

The Dayton Daily News found that Antani also missed a deadline to submit a list of local projects to Senate leadership to access $350 million in surplus funds set aside for capital improvement projects across the state. Our reporting found that Antani did not meet with local stakeholders about the projects, despite being invited to do so.

Antani says he intentionally missed the recent deadline because he views the entire ordeal as “completely unacceptable” and intends to vote against the bill on fiscal conservatism grounds. He’d rather the money go toward a tax cut.

The Dayton area’s other state senator — Sen. Stephen Huffman, R-Tipp City — said Antani’s absence and decision not to turn in priorities indicated that he’s been missing in action.

“It’s very unfortunate that Senator Antani is not participating in the process and that he hasn’t been at the statehouse for three months, four months,” Huffman said in an interview. “I hope that’s not detrimental to the Miami Valley as we go through this process, but I will try my best as the only senator from Montgomery County to get the best share that the Miami Valley and Montgomery County should get.”

“I haven’t seen him in Columbus, I haven’t seen him locally. He hasn’t been to a committee, he hasn’t been to a voting session,” Huffman added. “His office is right next to mine — I haven’t seen him.”

Antani responds

When this news organizations asked about his absences, Antani, 33, said it’s no coincidence that he had a near-perfect voting record for the eight years he spent in the House and the first two years of his Senate term.

“What I would say about this General Assembly is that it has been unlike any other General Assembly,” Antani said.

Antani says the Senate has been poorly led by term-limited President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, who is running for a House seat this November and laying the groundwork for a bid to unseat House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, upon arrival.

As a result, Antani said, the Senate’s priorities haven’t been straight for this entire general assembly. Bills aren’t getting pushed the way they should; and concessions are being made in order to bolster Huffman’s campaign for House speaker.

Antani said “every single thing” the Senate has done has been mired by the squabble. “I will not participate in that,” he said.

“You can be a member and run for higher office or whatever. But as a leader, your job is no longer just your district, it’s the caucus. And you shouldn’t be using the caucus to go run for another office. It’s extremely inappropriate, in my opinion, for anybody in GOP leadership to go then run for Speaker while retaining their leadership posts,” Antani said.

“It’s frankly been embarrassing that this is caused by Republican infighting over a power struggle over who the next speaker is,” Antani said. “I get it, it’s a very important position, but the work of the General Assembly shouldn’t stop. And, by far and away, what we have voted on has been license plate bills, resolutions that are opinion resolutions that don’t have the force of law, and frankly very inconsequential things.”

Antani v. Senate leadership

It’s no secret Antani has fallen out of good graces with his party’s leadership in the Senate.

When the state last year approved a redistricting plan, Republicans agreed to a plan that flipped Antani’s Republican-leaning district to lean Democratic and moved part of his voting base in Miamisburg into Huffman’s district.

Antani has introduced seven bills this General Assembly; only two of them have been given a single hearing. Antani said he doesn’t think leadership has deliberately stymied his bills, but noted that his willingness to speak out against leadership likely hasn’t helped him move any bills forward.

“Look, it’s no secret that I’ve always been very conservative, and it’s no secret that I’m willing to vote against the leadership — this is in the House and Senate, this is just how I am — and there are consequences for your actions. That is one of the consequences, that’s the reality of the situation; which again goes into the calculus of these protest votes,” Antani said.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

A Dayton Daily News analysis found that Antani is so far the only Republican senator to be permanently removed from a standing committee during this general assembly.

Ohio Senate Majority Caucus spokesman John Fortney said the removal “boils down to simply making sure committee posts are filled.”

When asked, Fortney shared leadership’s disappointment with Antani’s absences and his refusal to partake in recent priority spending deliberations.

“The voters in the 6th Senate District elected Senator Antani to represent them in the Ohio Senate. Although unfortunate that he has missed a third of Senate voting sessions and has not introduced any projects for consideration as part of the Capital Budget process, his office remains open and staffed to serve constituents in his district,” Fortney said.

Fortney also said that leadership intends to give Antani’s remaining bills their guaranteed hearings. He added that one of Antani’s bills was recently given a hearing that he did not show up to.

“It’s important to remember that bills are passed based on dialogue and good faith conversations with fellow senators and of course leadership. If Senator Antani wants a hearing on bill, he just needs to ask,” Fortney said.

‘Missing in action’

Antani, like all Ohio senators, receives a base yearly salary of $63,007. He pulls an extra $6,750 for helping lead a Senate committee. His taxpayer-funded $69,757 income is 62.7% higher than the per-capita income of his constituents in Ohio Senate District 6. His term expires at the end of this year and he has opted not to run for re-election.

When Antani announced his Congressional run last year, Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman state Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Butler Twp., said he would like Antani to resign from his Senate seat and let the party pick his replacement to run as an incumbent.

At the time, Plummer called Antani “missing in action” and said, “We haven’t seen him for three years in Montgomery County.”

The Democrat running in the November election to replace Antani is state Rep. Willis Blackshear Jr., D-Dayton. Blackshear did not return requests for comment for this story.

The Republican running for the seat is Charlotte McGuire, who represents the region on the state board of education.

Asked about Antani’s absences, McGuire called the role of an elected official to be “the voice of the people.”

“Not only do you have to represent them at the table, you got to bring information back for the people to consider so they can inform our goals and objectives or strategies for the future,” she said. “With any elected official, and I even say this to my grandchildren, your actions speak louder than words”

Details on Antani’s absences

Antani has been called to the Ohio Statehouse 15 times since the start of 2024, either to participate in a Senate committee meeting or a full floor vote (sometimes on the same day) — he’s been present for two of those instances.

An analysis of absence notifications Antani submitted to Senate leadership found that Antani missed voting sessions on Feb. 8, March 8; June 7; June 15; June 21; and Sept. 27 in 2023 and April 10; April 24; and May 8 in 2024.

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

According to the Senate clerk, senators aren’t required to submit absence notifications when they miss voting sessions, but it does save them from a $25 fine. These notifications rarely state the actual reasons why lawmakers can’t — or won’t — make it to session.

The nine sessions he missed included votes on a proposed legislative fix to ensure that President Joe Biden could appear on the Ohio ballot this November; a proposal to fix a longstanding loophole that permitted spousal rape in some instances; and the Senate’s first attempt at passing the state’s two year operating budget.

Separate roll call records kept by Senate committee chairs show Antani’s attendance record in the four committees he sits on. Our analysis found:

• On the Senate Government Oversight Committee, which he vice-chairs, he has been absent eight times, present nine times, and replaced for a day five times. In all, Antani was technically present for about 41% of the committee’s hearings. He receives a nearly $7,000 yearly stipend for his position on the committee.

• On the Senate Medicaid Committee, Antani has been absent twice and present three times for a 60% attendance rate.

• On the Senate Transportation Committee, Antani has been absent nine times and present seven times, which calculates out to a 43.8% attendance rate.

• On the Financial Institutions Committee, Antani has been absent nine times and present twice, which totals out to an 18.2% attendance rate. He was absent in six consecutive committee hearings before being permanently removed by Senate leadership on April 2.

Overall, these tallies equate to Antani being absent or being replaced for 61.1% of his committee hearings during this General Assembly.

But, being present during roll call (and thus being recorded as present on official records) does not guarantee that a lawmaker actually participated in that committee hearing. In fact, it doesn’t mean they even sat in on the committee at all.

Take, for example, the Nov. 28 Government Oversight Committee meeting, which this news organization attended. Antani was at the Statehouse and stopped by the committee room to sign in, but disappeared before any testimony was heard. This behavior is not unique to Antani, but it can make it seem like a lawmaker attended a session they actually took no part in.

Antani conceded that he missed various committee hearings while focusing on his Congressional campaign from November 2023 to March 2024.. He called his gamble on the campaign something he regrets now, with hindsight.

“Do I regret not voting now and sort of messing up my perfect record? Yeah, I do regret that because, you know, I lost my campaign,” Antani said. “But I will say, overall, if you look at my lifetime record, I still have 97, 98% attendance in voting.”

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Avery Kreemer can be reached at 614-981-1422, on X, via email, or you can drop him a comment/tip with the survey below.

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