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House Republicans rally around Merrin, reintroduce constitutional amendment resolution

Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) addressed dozens of his fellow Republican legislative supporters in the Ohio Statehouse to discuss his goals for the upcoming session and lay out a plan for policies they support.

Merrin won an unofficial Republican caucus vote for House speaker in December, but Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) won the official floor vote last week after gaining the support of every House Democrat and 22 House Republicans.

“I’m the leader of the House Republicans,” Merrin said after meeting with more than 30 members of the House majority caucus Wednesday.

Merrin recognizes Stephens as the “duly-elected” speaker of the House.

“We give respect to him. I congratulate Jason Stephens on becoming the speaker of the Ohio House. I look forward to — and I know we all do — look forward to working with Jason Stephens. We would encourage him to work with the Republican majority of the House and not with Democrats,” said Merrin.

Western Ohio pastor and Rep. Gary Click, who was just elected to his second term in the House, described the meeting of Merrin supporters as a “family conference.” But he admitted he doesn’t know if this is the beginning of a third caucus to oppose the Democrats and the Stephens Republicans.

“People have been wondering, is there going to be a coup against the coup? And there's not," Click said in an interview for "The State of Ohio." "I've said oftentimes, you know, you have to work with what you have instead of what you wish you had or what you think you deserve or even what you ought to have. So this is what we have.”

In the interview, Click admitted he hadn't been referring to Stephens as the speaker, but that changed after the meeting.

“Quite honestly, I'm not calling Speaker Stephens before because I feel like it was illegitimately done," Click said. "But, you know, Derek set the pace today. He called him Speaker Stephens, so I'll call him Speaker Stephens.”

There are 67 members of the House Republican caucus, but 22 of those members ended up joining 32 members of the House Democratic caucus in voting for Stephens as speaker.

That leaves the majority of the Republican caucus still supporting Merrin as leader.

When asked if he would try to remove Stephens as speaker, Merrin said "That's certainly not my personal focus right now."

Merrin was flanked by his supporters as he spoke to the press following their meeting. He said they intend to talk to Stephens about the Ohio House rules and procedures in order to “decentralize power” from the speaker’s office.

These rules would range from administrative protections for members, such as keeping parking spots and legislative staff, to ensuring members can offer amendments on the House floor.

Stephens issued a statement Wednesday in response to Merrin's meeting.

"My focus remains on unifying the House Republican caucus to get to work. 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," Stephens wrote.

That group of Merrin supporters also delivered a resolution to the clerk’s office on Wednesday to reintroduce the provision that would require 60% of the vote at the ballot to amend the state constitution. The threshold for a constitutional amendment on the ballot is currently a simple majority.

The resolution included additional measures from last year’s House Joint Resolution 6. The new resolution would require signatures to be gathered in all 88 counties and would eliminate the 10-day procurement period for petitioners to gather more signatures if their initial drive fell short.

“A lot of us don't get do overs in our own jobs. Deadlines mean something. We want to eliminate that period and say ‘if you want to get your idea on the constitution, do it right. Get it right the first time,’” said Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) who introduced HRJ 6 last year.

Some Merrin supporters said they are concerned Stephens won’t bring the resolution up for a vote because Democrats — who helped elect Stephens as speaker — oppose it.

Contact Andy at achow@statehousenews.org.