Vernal G. Riffe Jr.
Scioto County native and Ohio Speaker of the House Vern Riffe is shown with his gavel while presiding over a session in this 1980s photograph. It measures 8" x 10" (20.32 x 25.4 cm). Courtesy of Shawnee State University.
Vernal G. Riffe, Jr., was a dominant force in the Ohio House of Representatives for much of the late twentieth century.
Riffe was born in 1925, in New Boston, Ohio. He attended college briefly, but he did not graduate. A resident of southern Ohio for his entire life, Riffe embarked upon a political career to assist people living in Appalachia improve their lives. Riffe won election to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1958. He served in the House from 1959 until 1994, when he retired. Riffe became Speaker of the Ohio House in 1975. He held this office for the next twenty years, longer than any other speaker in Ohio history. Riffe was a life-long member of the Democratic Party, and after his leaving office, the Democrats struggled to have their voices heard in the Ohio government.
As a member of the Ohio House, Riffe worked diligently to alleviate the economic plight of southern Ohioans. He earmarked millions of dollars to establish Shawnee State University, sometimes called "Vern Riffe State University," in Portsmouth, Ohio, to enhance the educational opportunities of southern Ohioans. He also forced through the state government funds for the construction of Ohio Route 32. This highway begins in Athens, Ohio, and travels westward across the state. Critics of the highway commonly refer to it as the "Highway to Nowhere," as it does not connect or travel to any of Ohio's major population centers.
Riffe was a dominant force in state politics for his thirty-six years in the Ohio House. He received numerous honors for his contributions to the state, including the Vernal Riffe Chair in the Political Science Department at The Ohio State University. He also has had several buildings named in his honor, including one at Ohio State; the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts, home of the Ohio governor's office, in Columbus; and the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts at Shawnee State University.
Tarnishing his reputation, Riffe was charged with failing to report speaker's fees and with failing to report interest income from an inheritance. He eventually pleaded guilty to various charges. Riffe claimed that he was guilty of not reporting the interest income, an unintentional oversight on his part. Prosecutors claimed that Riffe pleaded guilty to both charges. Authorities required Riffe to pay a fine for his transgressions.
Riffe died on July 31, 1997.