SUDDES: Intra-Republican bickering holding up important projects throughout Ohio



The General Assembly is taking time off to campaign for the March 19 primary election. But hey, it isn’t like anything else needs doing at the Statehouse, is there?

Except that intra-Republican bickering between the state Senate and the Ohio House has held up passage of House Bill 2, a $2 billion state construction bill, of which $350 million is earmarked for “One-Time Strategic Community Investments” – i.e., hometown pork-barrel.

Of that $2 billion, the $350 million will come from spare change sloshing around in Ohio’s treasury, the remaining $1.65 billion from bonds, with the bond money used for school- and college buildings, prisons, and local infrastructure.

Among the $350 million pool of “strategic investments,” the best known to Greater Clevelanders is likely a $20 million earmark for the North Coast Connector project – a proposed land bridge over lakeside roads and rail lines to link downtown Cleveland’s Mall C and the City Hall area with lakefront attractions, such as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Cleveland Browns Stadium.

As for the Dayton area, besides construction allotments for Sinclair Community College and Wright State University, the bill also provides such earmarks as $1.25 million for the Kettering Business Park and $1 million for the Dayton Aviation Heritage Site’s Wright factory.

The slowdown on HB 2 is due to the conflicting ambitions of House Speaker Jason Stephens, a Republican of Lawrence County’s Kitts Hill, and Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican.

Huffman, term-limited out of the Senate in December, is headed to the House in January, where he’d like to replace Stephens as speaker. Naturally, Stephens likes things just the way they are in the House. The question is who gets to play Mr. Results.

Stephens’s circumstances are complicated by the fact he was elected speaker with the help of Democrats due to a House GOP split between Stephens (and 21 GOP allies) and Republicans who supported Rep. Derek Merrin, of suburban Toledo, for speaker.

Bottom line, the 22-member Stephens GOP faction united with the House’s 32 Democrats to elect Stephens speaker, while the remaining House Republicans present voted for Merrin. The GOP caucus as a whole had originally backed Merrin but evidently some minds changed or got changed.

Sniping continues between Stephens and the House’s Merrin faction, and those Republicans whom Merrin’s allies call the “Blue 22″ for joining with House Democrats to elect Stephens speaker. On Wednesday, Stephens won a tactical victory in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. A judge rejected – for now – a bid by Merrin and his group to pry control of House Republicans’ caucus campaign fund from Stephens, a pot of money Stephens can use to defend House GOP allies from primary-campaign attacks by Merrin supporters.

“The question,” as Humpty Dumpty told Alice, “is which is to be master – that’s all.” Result: The Huffman-Stephens chess game, whose net effect is to gum things up while deals get cut, if they can. Functionally, Stephens’ mission is to prove he can get things done, while Huffman’s is to prove Stephens can’t.

Intra-GOP bickering in the Senate and House are unnecessarily confusing matters when clarity is what’s called for. Funny how that happens when goals and power mix, driven by the hyper-ambitions that term-limits stoke.

Such is the real cost of doing business on Capitol Square – measuring a lawmaker’s goals and tailoring donations to fit a pol’s plans. Result: Haggling for projects to tell voters their legislator is Mr. or Ms. Results.

That’s our Statehouse – where ambition and ego combine to tie things up ... while Ohio waits.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at

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