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Process to appoint new Republican member to Ohio House fires up feud between speaker, rival

Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) talks to reporters after House session on March 1, 2023.
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) talks to reporters after House session on March 1, 2023.

The simmering feud between Republicans who support Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and those backing his rival Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Township) boiled over again in session, as the two factions couldn’t come to an agreement on a replacement for one of their members who is now the state agriculture director.

House session had started strangely, with an objection to the routine motion of approval the journal of the previous session. The journal was approved, but 16 Republicans voted against it. All were supporters of Merrin.

The House then moved onto the transportation budget, which passed 74-21. Again, the "no" votes were Merrin supporters.

When there was only the installation of the new Republican member of the House on the agenda, Stephens called for a sudden recess so GOP members could meet.

When members returned, session was adjourned. Stephens told reporters it had been a "good, productive meeting," but there was a dispute over the appointment of Justin Pizzulli, of Franklin Furnace in Scioto County, to replace Brian Baldridge, who was selected as agriculture director last month.

“It had nothing to do with Mr. Pizzulli. This was just the caucus itself," Stephens said.

When asked what happened, Stephens replied: “You were here on January the 3rd.”

That’s when Stephens beat Merrin in the vote for speaker, getting 22 Republican votes and all 32 Democratic votes. Merrin got 43 Republican votes.

Merrin left the chamber, but one of his top supporters, Rep. Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) talked briefly to reporters.

Ferguson said the process to select Baldridge’s replacement was bad because he said Merrin supporter Adam Bird (R-New Richmond), who represents the county next to the district Baldridge represented, should have been included on the committee that recommended his replacement. Ferguson also said the Ohio House GOP’s recognized leaders, Derek Merrin and Phil Plummer, also weren’t involved.

“It's clear as day to the world that there's a major fracture and everybody's voice needs to be heard," Ferguson said.

Stephens said the votes were there to seat Pizzuli, but he wanted a larger number in agreement. Ferguson said that wasn't how he counted the votes.

Both Stephens and Merrin have claimed they are the leader of House Republicans.

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