COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Tensions are on the rise in the Ohio General Assembly as House Republicans continue to jockey among one another for power within the chamber.
In early January, a group of Republicans broke from the rest of the party and joined with Democrats to elect Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) as speaker of the Ohio House — beating out Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Township), who was originally poised to win the position.
Christopher McKnight Nichols, an Ohio State University professor and the Wayne Woodrow Hayes chair in national security studies, said more moderate Ohioans may be pleased by that sort of deal-making.
“If you think you like the idea of moderation and bipartisanship, this is the deal you would applaud,” he said. “If you prefer your particular party and rule by majority, then you would also want to pay attention to this, because that party lost out.”
Ohio’s speaker determines the rules of the chamber, decides what legislation gets assigned to committee and receives floor votes.
But when voting on Ohio House rules Tuesday, a group of GOP members backing Merrin wanted to amend the rules package — pushing for provisions like allowing a member to exercise their Second Amendment right and requiring Christian prayers prior to session. That was shut down.
“There are a lot of people right now that don’t feel like they have a voice because the Democrats elected the speaker of the house,” Merrin said. “We have gridlock.”
Nichols said he believes fractures within fractures are happening. “People who want to get things done, move forward with meaningful legislation,” Nichols said.
Some Republicans are also looking to decentralize power, pulling it away from the speaker.
“We have 99 members in this house, and yet one individual is going to be able to control every piece of legislation and whether it will see committee or have a vote,” Rep. Josh Williams (R-Oregon) said.
When the rules package was finally passed, it included provisions like the “Cinderella rule.”
“That rule means amendments and substitute bills are offered the calendar day and get in the calendar, so no lawmaker goes into a committee voting on something they have not seen,” Minority Floor Leader Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said.
The power to control $3 million in campaign funds from the Ohio House Republican Alliance Campaign Committee is also in the air.
“This can make or break a career,” Nichols said. “How do you get to become speaker, for instance? You need to build networks and community, raise a lot of money, then deploy the money you raise for allies.”
And while Stephens maintains that he is the leader of the Republican Party — because of his role as speaker — and therefore controls the money, a majority of Republicans elected Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) to do so in a caucus vote. Merrin said all GOP members were invited to this vote, but that the members who did not vote for him did not attend.
Merrin also maintains that he is the leader of the Republican party, since a majority of Republicans voted for him, even if Stephens ultimately took the speakership.
“This is telling us something about the party itself,” Nichols said. “There is a real fight going on within it, about who controls power and who controls the money.”
“In the Ohio House of Representative when a speaker is Republican, he is the leader of the Republican Party and that’s where we’re at,” Stephens said.
Stephens said legislating can now move forward, with committee assignments also in place, but Merrin’s backers have said they will continue to push back.