In a surprise move by the Ohio House of Representatives, Republican State Representative Jason Stephens was selected as the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. It was just two weeks ago that the Ohio House Republican Caucus met and voted to support State Representative Derek Merrin to serve as Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives in the 135th Ohio General Assembly.
Ohio House Speaker Stephens was supported by 22 Ohio House Republicans and 32 Ohio House Democrats. Merrin received 43 votes from his Republican counterparts. The Ohio House Democrat claim there is no special deal coming with their support of Stephens for Speaker. That is likely true as special deals for a minority party in a legislative body tend to end as soon as leadership votes are over. Instead, House Democrats indicated Stephens would be a better Speaker to work with on policy issues. What is clear is that Merrin’s conservative, anti-labor positions in the past hurt him with the labor unions that have come to support Statehouse Republican candidates as well as the Democrats. Merrin’s loss is a win for organized labor in Ohio.
What does the election of Speaker Stephens mean for politics and policy in the 135th Ohio General Assembly?
Political Stability. Speaker Stephens’ strongest argument on his behalf to serve as Speaker was his longevity for the job—he can serve 6 years based on Ohio’s term limit law. Stephen’s election as Speaker could give a rest to the disaster known as term limits that seems to disrupt Ohio’s political process. These regular battles for who will become the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives lead to internal political battles among the Republicans who hold a supermajority as incumbents move to the political right out of concern for losing Primary Elections driven by their colleagues seeking new political leadership. The internal Republican battles also lead to a federal court indictment of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder.
Policy Chaos. Following the disruption of the Householder indictment and upcoming federal court trial, the Ohio House of Representatives is desperate for calm. It is doubtful that will be the experience of the 135th Ohio General Assembly. Speaker Stephens is clearly qualified for the job serving as a County Commissioner and now Ohio House member and is seen as an effective legislator. His challenge will be the majority of his caucus didn’t support him for the job and they are not happy. Generally, legislative leaders guide their body with the support of most of their own caucus and rarely cross to the minority party side to govern on a daily basis. On major issues like state tax policy and the state operative budget, that may not be the case for Speaker Stephens.
The 135th Ohio General Assembly will be wild ride and the political challenges of the Ohio House of Representatives will make the Ohio Senate and Governor DeWine even more important in the coming year.