Why You Should Care About How Ohio Just Elected a House Speaker


Nick Watts, Co-Editor-in-Chief '23

From January 3rd to January 7th, 2023, the 118th United States Congress was unable to elect a Speaker of the House on the first ballot for the first time in exactly 100 years. In fact, the fifteen ballots that it took to elect Speaker McCarthy was the most ballots it took to elect a speaker in 164 years.

The main reason behind the crippling of one of our houses of Congress lies within the rifts currently running rampant through the Republican Party. Twenty-one holdouts, or ‘rebels’ as many media outlets dubbed them, continuously kept McCarthy behind the 218 votes he needed to be elected speaker on ballot after ballot.

Democrats, unwilling to come to his rescue, simply kept voting for their own speaker nominee. The deadlock only broke after McCarthy conceded to many demands that these far-right Republicans were making regarding House rules and committee assignments.

Amidst the utter chaos that very publicly ensnared the United States House of Representatives, a very different scene was playing out within the halls of the Ohio House of Representatives.

For those who aren’t aware (and it isn’t embarrassing to not know. State government isn’t exactly at the forefront of the news), Ohio has three branches of government. Similar to how the United States has a House, Senate, Supreme Court, and President, Ohio has its own House, Senate, Supreme Court, and Governor. Many of the procedures are the same, too.

In the Ohio House’s case, a candidate for speaker needs a majority of votes to assume the position, just like in the U.S. House. The difference between the two chambers on January 3rd was that one had ended the day fighting over a historic 3rd ballot for speaker. The other ended the day by electing a speaker through a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans.

On November 16th, 2022, a press release from the Ohio House announced that State Representative Derrick Merrin had been elected speaker. Although the formal vote would not be held until January 4th, the press release was not wrong in assuming that Merrin would be the next speaker. Given the fact that he had won the Republican caucus vote for the party’s nominee for speaker, it was a safe assumption that the speaker’s gavel would be his.

To Merrin’s and many Ohioans’ surprise, however, this would not be the case. In a stunning turn of events, State Representative Jason Stephens would emerge the victor. “We need a speaker who is willing to listen to everyone,” said Republican State Representative Brett Hillyer in his speech nominating Stephens for speaker. All 32 Democrats joined 22 Republicans to give Stephens 54 votes to Merrin’s 43.

Most Democrats and some Republicans considered Merrin’s views on hot-button issues such as guns, abortion, and district maps, and others to be too extreme. Many who voted for Stephens expressed the view that Ohio needs a House Speaker who is less partisan and more willing to work with those of differing political views.

Democratic State Representative Casey Weinstein commented, “Speaker Stephens led a coalition of moderate lawmakers from across the aisle, who will now focus on delivering the commonsense solutions that Ohioans sent us here to deliver.” Similarly, Republican State Representative Sara Carruthers remarked on her support of Stephens that “[she] truly believe[s] Ohio is sick of the quarreling, [she] believe[s] America is sick of the quarreling.”

In the aftermath of the vote, Stephens and the 21 Republicans who supported him were formally censured in an Ohio Republican Party Central Committee resolution that claimed the lawmakers had “dishonor[ed] the historic brand” of their party.

While Stephens’ election is not without precedent (in 2019, Speaker Larry Householder was similarly elected with Democratic and Republican support), it is remarkable for a number of reasons.

First, Stephens was elected with the support of all House Democrats. Only 26 of 38 Democrats voted for Householder in 2019. Second, the House Republicans who voted for Stephens were formally censured, unlike Republicans who voted for Householder four years ago. Finally, Householder and his recent predecessor, former Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, have now each since been arrested in connection with bribery scandals. The fact that another bipartisan vote to elect a moderate Republican speaker has happened again in the wake of these scandals is striking.

I would argue, however, that the biggest reason that you should care about what happened at the Statehouse on January 3rd is because it is a strong indicator that bipartisanship is not dead in America. No matter how much mud politicians in Washington sling at each other, the fact remains that local government must find bipartisan solutions in order to function.

One side digging their heels in and refusing to cooperate with anyone from the other side of the political aisle is not how real, substantive policy results are achieved for the American people. Democrats and Republicans joining forces to elect a moderate, commonsense, good-faith public servant like Stephens is an example that many in the government around the country would be wise to look to.