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Primary results raise questions about upcoming contest to become Ohio House speaker

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) takes questions from reporters after remarks at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce's post-election event Impact Ohio on March 21, 2024.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) takes questions from reporters after remarks at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce's post-election event Impact Ohio on March 21, 2024.

A dozen Republican Ohio House incumbents who supported Jason Stephens for speaker faced primary challengers, and four of them lost those races Tuesday. And that raises questions about Stephens’ re-election as speaker next year, as GOP Senate President Matt Huffman is being more open about his plans when he’s in the House.

Huffman and Stephens are both running unopposed for the House. Huffman said after the Ohio Chamber of Commerce's post-election event Impact Ohio that some people want him to run for speaker. And Huffman was more direct than he’s been before about his plans when he gets into the House.

“I certainly am committed to making sure, whether it's me or anyone else, that whoever is elected speaker is elected by a majority of the majority caucus, which I think it will be—I think the Republicans will hold the House. And I think the speaker should be elected by the majority," Huffman said to reporters.

Stephens won with 22 Republican votes, around half the number of Republican votes Merrin got. Huffman, who donated to incumbents who supported Merrin for speaker, was asked if he thinks Stephens has done a good job as speaker.

"I think that it's very, very difficult to lead and legislate when he was elected in the manner that he was," Huffman said. "I think if if you are going to get elected that way, then it's difficult to say I'm also the leader of the Republican caucus."

"We need to make sure that the majority of the Republican caucus is supporting whoever the speakers and that we all support them," Huffman added. "And if Speaker Stephens had a majority of the caucus, even if I wasn't going to vote for him, then that's who I would vote. And if it's somebody else, that's what I'm going to vote for also."

Stephens became speaker with the votes of all 32 Democrats. But Huffman said he wants good relationships with Democrats, some of whom he says reached out to him after the primary.

"All 99 members get to vote for speaker," Huffman said. "A few of those folks contacted me first thing Wednesday morning. And so, yeah, I certainly will be able to do that. And it's not just for purposes of a speaker's race."

The Ohio House Republican Alliance, managed by Stephens as the speaker and his supporters, spent nearly $3 million on House primary races. Merrin had helped some candidates running against the incumbents who opposed him, who've been nicknamed the "Blue 22". Huffman donated to some incumbents who had supported Merrin and some candidates for open seats.

Huffman spoke at the event about the proposed amendment that seems likely to make the fall ballot that would create a 15-member commission of non-elected non-politicians to draw state and congressional district maps, which he strongly opposes.

Stephens also spoke at the Impact Ohio event, but didn't address the situation directly. He did talk about his goal of changing and perhaps eliminating term limits, saying it's important to find a balance of bringing in fresh blood while keeping institutional knowledge.

"It's far too easy to cater to extreme points of view versus working to create thoughtful policy that you believe in and that you can grow a consensus for when we have term limits that are as sort of a period as we do in Ohio," Stephens said.

Stephens didn't speak to reporters after the event.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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