Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) removed State Representative Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) as vice-chair of the Ohio House Ways and Means Committee, which reviews legislation affecting tax policy at the state and local levels.
Majority press secretary Aaron Mulvey told The Ohio Star that Merrin (pictured above, left) received a memo from Stephens (pictured above, right) on Friday informing him that Stephens removed him as the committee’s vice-chair.
Merrin repeatedly told Stephens that tax policy is one of his primary interests and listed eliminating income taxes in Ohio as one of his legislative priorities earlier this year.
He has also sponsored legislation to have state lawmakers pay more for their own fringe benefits. He wrote the Fuel Tax Transparency Act, which requires fuel pumps to have a sticker displaying the rates of state and federal fuel taxes. Also, Merrin wrote the Ballot Language Transparency Act making it easier for voters to understand the impact of tax and bond levies on the ballot.
Mulvey told The Star that Merrin’s removal was in response to Stephens swearing in two new members to the Ohio House to fill the vacant seats left due to the passing of State Representative Kris Jordan (R-Ostrander) and the resignation of State Representative Brian Baldridge (R- Winchester) to take a job as state agriculture director.
After the untimely passing of Jordan, lawmakers chose Delaware County Republican Brian Lorenz (R-Powell) to fill the remaining term for the 60th House District seat.
Justin Pizzulli, a Republican from Scioto County, has been sworn in to complete the remainder of Baldridge’s term in the 90th House District.
According to the memo, Lorenz has replaced Merrin as Ways and Means Committee vice-chair.
“At least Jason Stephens did it while my mother is still in good health,” Merrin said following his removal as vice-chair.
His comment is directly in relation to when Stephens and his allies “ramped up their efforts” to win the speakers gavel from Merrin in December when they found out that his father, Russel Merrin, was in hospice.
Lawmakers controversially elected Stephens earlier this year to succeed State Representative Bob Cupp (R-Lima). The choice came despite the Republican Caucus’s previous selection of Merrin as the new speaker in November. Although the GOP caucus voted for Merrin as Speaker of the House in December, Stephen fought with the Democrats to collect votes and garner a win.
This move prompted the Ohio Republican Party to censure Stephens and his Republican allies, saying they had disregarded their obligations to the party and the public.
Stephens has also removed two key Merrin supporters State Representative Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) and State Representative Jena Powell (R-Darke County), from their committee roles.
Pizzuli will replace Powell as vice-chair of the House Finacial Institutions Committee, and State Representative Dave Dobos (R-Columbus) is to replace Ferguson as vice-chair of the House Transportation Committee.
“Softest Legislator of the year goes to…Jason Stephens,” Ferguson said after his removal.
Powell told The Ohio Star that her removal was due to her fight for conservative values.
“Speaker Stephens removed me from the Financial Institutions COmmittee because I dared to fight for the conservative values my constituents and I hold dear. While the Speaker is focused on promoting liberal policies that harm Ohioans I remain committed to relentlessly fighting for my community,” Powell told The Star.
Ferguson told The Ohio Star that he will continue doing the right thing regardless of what it takes.
“I’m going to continue doing what is right no matter the cost. Obviously, Jason Stephens doesn’t have that same moral compass,” he told The Star.
State Representative Beth Lear (R-Galena) told The Ohio Star that “these tactics clearly fail to promote unity and it’s obvious that is not desired.”
“Rather than bringing us together on issues, like we were for the SJR 2 vote, the caucus has once again been pulled apart. It’s a shame when we have a super majority that we don’t take full advantage of the opportunity to promote Republican values like a red state should. We’re squandering opportunities every day,” Lear told The Star.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Jason Stephens” by State Representative Jason Stephens. Background Photo “Ohio Statehouse” by Ɱ. CC BY-SA 4.0.
Editor’s Note: Beth Lear was a journalist with The Ohio Star from May 2019 to December 2019.