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Ohio House speaker weighs in on probable challenge for his job next year

Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) gaggles with reporters in April 2024.
Sarah Donaldson
Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) gaggles with reporters in April 2024.

With a brewing battle over who will sit at the speaker's dais next legislative session, current House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said Tuesday that his probable challenger—current Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima)—should focus on his own chamber for the time being.

Both men are running for seats in the House in November, since Huffman is at the end of his term in the Senate, and neither of them face challengers. The likely face-off to lead the House is setting the tone in both chambers, even months out from the members-only vote.

“Frankly, it would be better if the Senate president would pay attention to running the Senate, instead of trying to run the House,” Stephens told reporters Tuesday. “That’s how I feel about that.”

His comments are on the heels of a bitter primary election cycle. Four of the dozen Ohio House GOP incumbents facing primary challengers, who backed Stephens’s first bid for speaker, lost their races in March.

Following a post-primary event held by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce last month, Huffman said some people want him to run to be the next speaker.

“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 told reporters then.

In January 2023, Stephens won the speakership with votes from 22 Republicans and all 32 Democrats, beating out Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova), whom a bigger cohort of the Republican caucus backed.

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

House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said Tuesday the ongoing, still unofficial race is an “ill-affect“ of a legislature dominated by one political party.

“There are too many of them. They're fighting themselves,” Russo told reporters. “Without having that balance in the legislature, the price for that is paid by the people of Ohio.”

Russo said it was news to her that Huffman was reaching out to Democrats about his likely bid.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at sdonaldson@statehousenews.org.