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Who’s the leader of the Ohio House Republicans?

House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) on the House floor January 24, 2023.
Karen Kasler/Andy Chow
Statehouse News Bureau
House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) on the House floor January 24, 2023.

Ohio House Republicans are battling over who is the leader of the GOP caucus — between Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill), who won the Ohio House speaker vote, and Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova), who won the vote of more than two-thirds of the Republican caucus.

Stephens and Merrin were both asked, “who’s the leader of the House Republican caucus? “

“Well, of course I am,” Stephens said. While Merrin replied, “Well, I am the leader of the House Republicans.”

Stephens said he’s the leader because he became speaker. But he won with 22 Republican votes, the rest came from more than 30 Democratic votes.

Merrin has claimed he is the chair of the caucus because more than two-thirds of the GOP members wanted him as speaker.

Stephens said he’s ready for the lawmakers to put this rift behind them.

“We have a group of members who are ready to get to work for Ohio and we think that’s exciting,” said Stephens. “If we do that right, then the good ideas are going to come to fruition and they're going to come to the top, and we are going to be able to make Ohio a better place to live.”

But Merrin and his supporters still insist decisions for the House GOP should go through him. That includes control over the Ohio House Republican Alliance, the caucus’ political arm that has more than $3 million on hand.

Merrin said Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) was elected to be chair of that campaign finance committee.

Merrin was asked why the matter of House leadership should matter to the average Ohioans.

“Because it’s important for every Ohioan to know that their elected representative has a voice,” said Merrin.

Who’s calling the shots?

When it comes to policymaking, more than half of the Republican caucus has signaled they support Merrin through recent votes on the House floor and by attending meetings hosted by Merrin.

About two dozen Republicans stand behind Stephens, and the House Democrats have said they’re ready to start working on legislation that will help Ohioans.

But the House has yet to formally introduce any legislation.

A House joint resolution to make it harder to change the Ohio Constitution through a ballot issue was filed with the clerk’s office but has not received a resolution number.

Merrin said there are important decisions to be made and those decisions start with the leadership team.

“This is the people's house. This is where money is appropriated. This is where public policy is made, regarding taxation, education, infrastructure, Medicaid, our prison system. This is where it happens. And our leadership plays a large role in what moves and what doesn't move,” said Merrin.

Stephens suggested the caucus could move forward with committees and bill hearings after the members meet for a retreat next week.

“We will be able to put our priorities together. I think it's important for the speaker to be the one who sets the stage and sets the environment so that our members have the opportunity for their ideas to be in the arena,” said Stephens.

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