‘Nuclear option’ could stall Ohio House business amid GOP split, Dayton representative says

Division among Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives threatens to stall business as lines are drawn between supporters of rival representatives.

Thanks to significant help from House Democrats, Ohio Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, was elected speaker of the House last week over the Republicans’ early choice for the job, Toledo-area Rep. Derek Merrin.

Stephens won 54-43, with support from 22 Republicans and all 32 Democrats in the House. Overall, Republicans hold 67 of the House’s 99 seats, leaving the House GOP divided with more Republicans supporting Merrin and his backers forming a new “Republican Majority Caucus.”

“If you look at the other side of the coin, we (Merrin supporters) have enough members to block any policy we don’t like,” said Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, a Merrin backer.

Plummer called that the “nuclear option.”

“We don’t want to have to do that. We still want to govern for the people. We’re trying to be civil about this and say, ‘Here are our demands,’ and then we can govern,” Plummer said.

But he added: “It will be used if it has to be,” referring to the nuclear option.

Asked if House business would be frozen, Plummer disagreed with that verb, but said, “It could be.”

“We still want to govern,” he said. “We still want to do what’s right for the citizens. But it’s not going to be under one person’s dictatorship.”

Speaker Stephens issued a statement Wednesday, according to Gongwer News Service.

“My focus remains on unifying the House Republican Caucus to get to work,” Gongwer quotes Stephens as saying. “After meeting with dozens of members of the Ohio House this past week, I am confident the House can move forward and deliver real results for the people of our great state.”

Plummer said that Republicans who support Merrin presented their “list of demands” to Stephens Wednesday, seeking rule changes and two-thirds of committee assignments and chairmanships.

He said he expects Stephens to meet with his supporters. “I’m sure we’ll negotiate.”

“We’re making it two separate entities,” Plummer said, referring to 43 Merrin supporters, as distinct from Stephens supporters. “In doing so, we’re got to get away from the dictator form of speakership that we’ve seen in the past. That isn’t good for anybody.”

Republican supporters of Merrin seek assignments based on merit rather than “friendship” and “paybacks,” said Plummer, a former Montgomery County sheriff.

“We’re all elected members,” Plummer said. “We all represent 120,000 people. We should not get put in a corner and our citizens suffer because a dictator speaker doesn’t like us.”

Asked how rule changes can be achieved if Democrats continue to support Stephens, Plummer said: “I’m sure Democrats can agree with us on decentralization of power. They don’t want a dictator either.”

Hamilton Rep. Sara Carruthers was one of 22 Republican representatives supporting Stephens.

She told this news outlet that Stephens never promised her or Democrats anything but fairness and a willingness to listen. A message seeking comment was left for her Thursday.

Merrin invited more than 40 fellow House Republicans who supported him to meet privately Wednesday to discuss seeking changes to House rules to lessen the speaker’s power and ensure that they are heard. The agenda also included discussion about advancing legislation that would make it harder for citizens to amend Ohio’s constitution, which they don’t believe would be a priority for Stephens.

“I’m the leader of the House Republicans,” Merrin said after the meeting, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “Jason Stephens is the speaker of the House.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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