GOP lawmakers share insight into ongoing rift after ‘chaos’ erupts on Ohio House floor

Ohio House Republicans continue squabbling after speakership competition fractures party

By: - January 27, 2023 5:00 am

State Rep. Derek Merrin, left, and Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens, right. (Photos by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish only with original story.)

The following article was originally published on and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.


Republicans in the Ohio House can’t stop fighting with each other.

After the past few contentious years in the state, it’s not uncommon to see a scuffle on the House floor. What isn’t common is that a public fight took place between members of the same party.

Since the beginning of the year, the House Republican Caucus has been split in two.

Back in November, the GOP caucus voted for Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) to be speaker. But during the full House vote in December, more moderate state Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) won after he collaborated with the Democrats.

Since the kerfuffle, Merrin’s team has promised to fight against Stephens. That was evident during what should have been a typically easy procedural day to vote on the leadership roles or House rules, such as what time the session begins.

State Rep. Josh Williams, R-Oregon. Official photo.

New state Rep. Josh Williams (R-Oregon) is part of the Merrin camp — and had something to say on the chamber floor.

“Literally my blood was boiling,” Williams said to OCJ/WEWS. “To go on the floor in front of a speaker selected by the Democrats and to once again, have my voice ignored, as not only an insult to the constitutional rights that I have as a legislator but also to be a voice of a generation of Black conservatives.”

Williams had two amendments he wanted to bring forward. He wanted to replace Rep. Jon Cross (R-Kenton) with Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) for the assistant majority floor leader role and he wanted to change a specific rule dealing with quorums.

Williams, and many others within his group, shouted out to Stephens, objecting to moving forward without hearing their amendments. Stephens skipped over him.

“Even if you properly stand up and operate within the rules and you are the most educated on a particular subject, we are going to ignore you and we are going to continue to operate under traditions that were made before individuals that looked like you were even present in the House,'” Williams, who is a constitutional law professor, said. “That hurt to my core.”

State Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville. Official photo.

Republican state Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville), a supporter of Stephens, said he never wanted anyone to feel that way, and he has been skipped by speakers many times. But this wasn’t personal to Williams, he said, but rather reading the proposals showed the Stephens team it was all theatrics.

“They wanted chaos on the floor,” the Athens County lawmaker said. “They were just trying to create controversy and maybe get their name in the paper or get on the news.”

The rules were given to the Merrin team at least 24 hours in advance, that way they could propose changes internally, he added.

Plus, some of the amendments were planted to stir up drama, he said.

Ohio: Church and Guns?

Two of the proposed rules stuck out to Edwards. OCJ/WEWS was sent documents of both, each created by state Rep. Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville).

State Rep. Ron Ferguson, R-Wintersville. Official photo.

The first would require a Christian prayer at the beginning of the session.

“I thought that was kind of despicable,” said Edwards. “We have Jewish people that serve in the Legislature. Are we now saying that rabbis around Columbus or around Ohio aren’t allowed to come back?”

Democrats were also outraged by this proposal. State Reps. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson), Ismail Mohamed (D-Columbus), Munira Yasin Abdullahi (D-Columbus), Anita Somani (D-Dublin) and Dani Isaacsohn (D-Cincinnati) all denounced the effort by Ferguson. Weinstein and Isaacsohn are both Jewish. Abdullahi and Mohamed are Muslim. Somani is Hindu.

“This shameful amendment was not only unconstitutional, but it was also a slap in the face to the millions of non-Christian Ohioans who call this state their home and are helping it grow,” the House Democrats said.

State Rep. Anita Somani, D-Columbus.

Edwards is a proud Christian, he said, but the Statehouse is “the people’s house” and people in Ohio are diverse.

“It was more of ‘what can we do to press a hot button issue to try to get our name out there and act like maybe these people aren’t Christians if they’re against it,'” he said.

The second proposal would allow lawmakers to carry guns in the Statehouse and on the floor.

“You’re not going to find more pro-Second Amendment than me,” he said. “However, I don’t like carve-outs or special laws for lawmakers.”

If he was seen voting against this, it may be used against him to pretend he is anti-firearms, he added.

OCJ/WEWS reached out to Ferguson to get his reaction and is awaiting his response.

Skipping the amendments was a bad idea, Williams said.

“You do not violate the Constitution just because you believe a certain amendment doesn’t have the votes to pass,” Williams argued. “The solution is you allow a member to move to amend, you vote down the amendment and then he has to report to his district why he proposed that amendment — period.”

The Constitution allows for members to object, and Stephens ignoring the objections broke the rules, he said.

Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill

“The Constitution doesn’t say that a single member has the right to object unless they’re politically motivated in their objection, or unless their objection is absurd,” he added. “It doesn’t say that.”

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Morgan Trau
Morgan Trau

Morgan Trau is a political reporter and multimedia journalist based out of the WEWS Columbus Bureau. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Trau has previously worked as an investigative, political and fact-checking reporter in Grand Rapids, Mich. at WZZM-TV; a reporter and MMJ in Spokane, Wash. at KREM-TV and has interned at 60 Minutes and worked for CBS Interactive and PBS NewsHour.