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Republicans split over proposed Ohio House rules including guns on floor, Christian prayers

Williams and Merrin talk while Stephens tries to leave.JPEG
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
Rep. Josh Williams (R-Oregon) and Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) talk to reporters in the spot where the House speaker usually addresses the media after session, while House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) steps down from the House dais and starts to walk past them. Reporters stopped Stephens in the back of the House to get his comments.

What is normally a routine vote on leadership and rules for the Ohio House turned turbulent in the first House session since Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) won the contested election for speaker.

There were some notable changes that were proposed by the coalition backing Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) — who challenged Stephens in the race for speaker and maintains that he is the leader of the Republican caucus.

The House was set to vote for a resolution on House rules and on Stephens' leadership team.

Stephens selected a mix of his supporters and those who backed Merrin. He nominated majority floor leader Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) to continue in that position, and Rep. Jon Cross (R-Kenton) as assistant floor leader. Both had voted for Stephens.

But he also named Rep. Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon) as majority whip and Rep. Sharon Ray (R-Medina) as assistant majority whip — they both voted for Merrin.

Merrin's supporters had proposed amendments to House rules, including:

  • Replacing Cross as assistant floor leader with Plummer
  • Specifying the times when a quorum is required
  • Lowering the number of members needed to force a bill to a vote, down from a majority of House members to 45 — another proposal lowered that to 32
  • Requiring a majority vote of the majority party to remove a committee chair or vice chair
  • Permitting firearms on the House floor
  • Requiring a Christian prayer to start sessions

Plummer had said the Merrin group's goal was to decentralize the speaker’s power, so he "can't force his agenda through without the voice of this caucus.”

Stephens announced the vote on the resolution without allowing motions to amend. Merrin supporter Rep. Josh Williams (R-Oregon) voiced his frustration that he’d been gaveled down when he asked to amend the rules.

“Many of the rules that I cared about personally were procedural. I'm a former constitutional law professor. I'm a procedural guy. And a lot of our rules just tried to clarify the procedures of the House, how committees could be conducted," Williams said.

Williams, the first Black House Republican in 50 years, said it was unfortunate that “once again, Black people weren't recognized by a Republican caucus.”

He added that members sue if they believe their rights have been violated, and "whether or not we will pursue litigation is an interesting topic that we will discuss moving forward."

But Stephens said he didn’t allow Williams to speak on amending the rules because “we need to move forward."

After the session, Plummer said he and Merrin lead the Ohio House Republican caucus, not Stephens. He called on Stephens to resign, saying "he's not fit to be a leader. He's not fit to be speaker acting that way."

Earlier in the day, Merrin announced that he had been elected the chair of the Ohio House Republican Caucus. He said Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton), who had run against both Merrin and Stephens for speaker in the Republican-only vote last fall, had been chosen by Republicans as vice chair of the caucus.

That position is usually reserved for the representative elected speaker or minority leader. Stephens was elected speaker by Republicans and Democrats, but got 22 votes from Republican votes compared to Merrin's 43.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.