The ongoing conflict among Ohio House Republicans emerged on Wednesday when they hastily decided not to schedule a vote on filling a House seat vacancy with a Norfolk Southern train engineer.
A screening committee of the House GOP selected Justin Pizzulli, of Franklin Furnace in Scioto County to represent Ohio House District 90 above seven other candidates. If chosen, Pizzulli would replace former State Representative Brian Baldridge (R-Winchester), who resigned after being designated director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture by Governor Mike DeWine.
House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) told reporters that Pizzulli had enough support from his party for appointment, but he preferred to wait for an “extreme majority if not unanimous” vote.
Stephens claimed that Pizzulli wasn’t the issue; rather, the ongoing division inside the House GOP caucus that resulted from Stephens collaborating with the Democrats to collect votes and win the speaker seat despite the Republican Caucus‘ previous selection in November of State Representative Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) as the new speaker.
“It had nothing to do with Mr. Pizzulli. This was just the caucus itself. You were here on January the 3rd,” Stephens said.
Stephens said he will still work to get Pizzulli appointed.
State Representative Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) contested that Pizzulli had the votes necessary to be appointed. Ferguson also said that he disapproved of the selection of neither Merrin nor his closest associates for the screening committee.
“The process was so bad that it was a concern for anybody that was going to emerge,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson told The Ohio Star that he doesn’t understand why Stephens would be concerned with an extreme majority if the votes were there.
“The Speaker was willing to call a vote on majority leadership and the rules package with a minority of Republicans and support of Democrats. I don’t know why he’d be concerned with an extreme majority now if the votes were there,” Ferguson told The Star.
Pizzulli has been a commercial freight engineer for Norfolk Southern, since last May.
Reportedly it is merely a coincidence that the screening committee chose a Norfolk Southern employee less than a month after a Norfolk Southern train derailed spilling harmful chemicals into the air and water in East Palestine.
Notwithstanding his work for the railroad, Pizzulli has a varied background. He has held various political positions, including that of Appalachian regional director for Republican Mike Gibbons’ unsuccessful 2022 U.S. Senate campaign. He has also worked as a realtor. He has an MBA from Marshall University.
Gibbons has launched an effort to stop the reelection of Stephens and the 21 other House Republicans who voted for Stephens.
This isn’t Pizzulli’s first attempt to land an Ohio House seat. He ran against Baldridge in a four-way Republican Ohio House primary in 2018. Pizzulli finished third.
The 6 member screening panel that selected Pizzulli was split between supporters of Stephens and Merrin. State Representatives Bob Peterson (R-Washington Court House), Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison), and Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) who supported Stephens. State Representatives Mark Johnson (R-Chillicothe), and Sharon Ray (R-Wadsworth) who backed Merrin. State Representative Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) who was absent the day the vote was taken.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Justin Pizzulli” by Real Estate Gallery, Inc. Background Photo “Norfolk Southern” by Jud McCranie. CC BY-SA 4.0.