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Vote for speaker last year may have cost some GOP incumbents their Ohio House seats

Ohio House considers bills during it
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio House considers bills during its session

Many eyes were on the Republican primary races for the Ohio House last night as nearly a dozen GOP incumbents faced challengers. Those members had joined all 32 Democrats in backing Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) over Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Township), who had been chosen by the full caucus a few weeks earlier. That decision may have cost a third of those incumbents their seats.

The losses aren't enough to prevent Stephens from being re-elected as speaker next year when now Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) is expected to win a House seat and challenge Stephens for the gavel.

One of those Stephens supporters who apparently lost his primary is Rep. Jon Cross (R-Findlay). In an recent interview, Cross blamed a dark money campaign for targeting him for opposing a school voucher bill that failed to pass.

“I think my opponent is being bought and paid for and will be a puppet for those special interests," Cross said.

Cross’s opponent, Ty Mathews, recently said he didn’t run against Cross because of the speaker fight. He said he hasn’t made promises about who he will specifically support for House Speaker but said how he plans to vote on House speaker next year.

“I will support whoever the caucus decides in the vote to back on the floor," Mathews said.

Reps. Sara Carruthers (R-Hamilton), Brett Hillyer (R-Urichsville), and Gail Pavliga (R-Atwater) also lost their primaries. Carruthers lost her primary contest to Diane Mullins, a pastor at a far-right evangelical Christian church. Hillyer lost to Jodi Salvo, the director of substance use prevention services at OhioGuidestone. And Pavliga lost her race against local business owner Heidi Workman.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, an embattled lawmaker from the greater Cleveland area lost his seat. Elliot Forhan (D-South Euclid) came in a distant third in his primary. Attorney Eric Synenberg, who had the backing of several Beachwood-area officials, won the race. Forhan had been accused by another Democratic lawmaker of stalking, though he was never charged, and legislative leaders ordered a state investigation into Forhan’s behavior after a report released by House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) accused him of a “pattern of harassment, hostility, and intimidation of colleagues and staff.” Forhan had said the allegations were false.

Most of the 30 House incumbents on the ballot managed to hold on to their seats in this primary, but 12 of them had no challengers. And in some districts, they are all but assured to win because of gerrymandering.