State Representative Merrin Loses Ohio Speakership to Moderate Stephens

As the 135th General Assembly gets underway, lawmakers elected moderate Republican Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) as the new Speaker of the Ohio House on Tuesday to succeed State Representative Bob Cupp (R-Lima).

The choice comes despite the Republican Caucus‘ previous selection in November of State Representative Derek Merrin (R-Moncolva) as the new Speaker.

Stephens bested Merrin 54–43.

Republicans chose Merrin over Stephens and State Representative Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) as their candidate for speaker in a meeting held behind closed doors shortly after the fall elections. After gaining the support of Plummer, who dropped out of the race, Merrin, who was backed by conservative organizations in the state, emerged as an unexpected victor.

Republicans in charge of the House could have chosen a speaker without any Democratic votes, but in recent weeks, there was dissent among GOP members on Merrin’s support.

In Ohio, the role of the Speaker of the State House of Representatives is one of the most powerful positions in elected government – including the authority to veto or advance any measure, assign bills to committees, and influence state spending and policy.

Merrin has been a proponent of several conservative proposals including the expansion of school vouchers, the “right-to-work” bill, and and a controversial ban on abortion.

Political analysts in Ohio claimed that some Republicans were concerned about upsetting labor unions, which still have a significant influence on state politics, if they supported Merrin due to his support of right-to-work legislation.

According to state Representative Jamie Callender (R-Concord), who nominated Merrin, he is brutally honest in his opinions even the controversial ones which sometimes can be difficult for others to accept.

“Derek is very, very honest to an extent rarely seen in this chamber, and sometimes it can be hard to take. He does not tell people what they want to hear,” Callender said.

Although the GOP caucus voted for Merrin as Speaker of the House in December, Stephen fought in collaboration with the Democrats to collect votes and garner a win.

Democratic minority leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said that with the division of GOP members on Merrin’s support all 32 Democrats took the opportunity to vote in unison to back someone they thought would more closely align with the issues important to their parties such as redistricting, school funding, workers rights, and infrastructure projects.

“There was clearly division on the other side, and they needed our votes. We took the opportunity to make sure that we were going to be working with a speaker who we felt like, at the end of the day, would work with us on the issues we could agree on,” Russo said.

Stephens has served two terms in the Ohio House of Representatives. In the 134th General Assembly, Stephens served on the Finance, Insurance, and Public Utilities committees, as well as the Chairman of Energy & Natural Resources. Stephens previously served as Lawrence County auditor from 2011-2019. Stephens was Lawrence County commissioner from 2001-2011 as well, being President from 2009-2010. Since 1996, Stephens has been a licensed insurance agent at Stephens & Son Insurance Agency, Inc. and, since 1999, is a co-owner of Stephens & Son Insurance of Chesapeake, Inc. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics/Finance and Business Management from Lipscomb University.

In his first remarks as Speaker, Stephens said the Ohio House has seen a lot of transition and change in the last few years but he wants to focus on what unites Ohioans in 2023. Some Republicans say, however, that there is no coming back from this.

“Whether we represent a district in the city or the country, or a district along the Ohio River or Lake Erie or anywhere in between, we all have a responsibility to serve the people of Ohio — the people who have placed their faith in us to make the tough decisions to make our great state a better place to live, work, and raise a family,” Stephens said.

In a Republican-majority House, Stephens, who is reportedly promising to halt conservative agendas and behave as a moderate is now one of the most important and powerful leaders in the state.

According to Center for Christian Virtue President Aaron Baer, people feel betrayed by this sudden leadership change.

“You have a lot of folks who are hurt, who feel betrayed, and it’s going to be a real test to say, are you really going to bring people together? Or did you just sell out everything you stand for in order to get a position of power?” Baer said.

According to Merrin, somehow the Democrats were able to choose the speaker of the House regardless of a 67-seat Republican majority.

“What happened here today is self-explanatory by the vote totals. The Democrats have chosen who the speaker of the House will be,” Merrin said.

Stephens’ election is the third time the seat has changed hands since 2020. He succeeds speaker Cupp, who was elected to the position in 2020 after speaker Larry Householder was removed following his arrest on federal bribery charges.

– – –

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].



Related posts

2 Thoughts to “State Representative Merrin Loses Ohio Speakership to Moderate Stephens”

  1. Philip Daubel

    Ohio Republicans have some rats, this was a complete shaft, just what Ohio does not need another RINO in charge!!!! When you have to go to the other side for votes it doesn’t make you a unifier AKA Joe Biden BS, you are a traitor Et Tu Brute and Benedict Stephens!!!


    “Although the GOP caucus voted for Merrin as Speaker of the House in December, Stephens fought IN COLLABORATION WITH THE DEMOCRATS to collect votes and garner a win.” So Ohio gets another RINO Speaker to replace the conservative (Merrin) the Republicans actually wanted. I smell a DeWine rat…