While Democrats are deep in the minority in the Ohio House of Representatives, the caucus joined with enough GOP members on Tuesday to elect Republican Jason Stephens as speaker over Derek Merrin, who began the day as the heavy favorite to lead the chamber. Cleveland.com’s Jeremy Pelzer writes, “Stephens, while conservative, is not considered to be as far to the right as Merrin.”
The GOP enjoys a 67-32 majority, so a Merrin speakership appeared likely after he won November’s caucus vote against Stephens. Pelzer writes that in the ensuing weeks there were “rumblings since then about some sort of challenge to Merrin,” but that “the insurgency to lift him to the speaker’s chair only picked up speed starting a few days ago.”
Indeed, Minority Leader Allison Russo says Democrats decided just two hours before the vote to cast their lot in with Stephens. Another 22 Republicans joined them, however, which left Merrin with only 43 votes. Russo, whose caucus supplied most of the support for the new speaker, declared that there was “no grand deal,” but “there were lots of discussions about things and areas of agreement on issues.” She also relays that Merrin spoke to her about getting Democratic support, which very much did not end up happening.
This is the second time in the last few years that the Democratic minority has played a key role in helping a Republican win the gavel over the candidate favored by most of the GOP caucus, though Merrin himself was on the other side of that vote. In 2019, he was one of the 26 Republicans who joined that same number of Democrats in supporting Larry Householder over Speaker Ryan Smith. Unlike four years ago, though, Smith got the backing of 11 Democrats as well as 34 GOP members.
Stephens, for his part, was appointed to the chamber later that year to succeed none other than Smith, who resigned to become president of the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College. The victorious Householder, though, was removed as speaker in 2020 after being arrested on federal corruption charges; Householder’s colleagues expelled him the following year, though Merrin voted to keep him in office.