EDITORIAL: A path forward and out of strife?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 7, 2023

It was a surprise that most statehouse observers did not see coming.

In an upset win, State Rep. Jason Stephens, a Republican who has represented voters from Lawrence County in multiple offices for more than two decades, defeated his party’s choice for speaker of the House and won the coveted position.

Key to Stephens’ victory was earning the support of all 32 Democrats in the chamber, in addition to the Republicans who split from the caucus, earning a bipartisan win for the position.

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His landing the top job brings about opportunities — the first of which is the obvious one: Lawrence County and southern Ohio will have one of their own in the leadership choice, giving the region and rural residents a much louder voice in state government.

The other comes from the nature of Stephens’ election.

As we have seen from the infighting in Washington, D.C. over the past few years and especially in the U.S. House this week, polarization and extremes have come to dominate government.

And, with gerrymandering and districts ensuring a party’s win in a general election, ballots are only competitive in the primaries in many parts of the state and nation, thus creating contests where candidates grow more extreme and build their career by appealing solely to their party base.

As a result, bipartisanship is often avoided and government veers close to being broken.

By appealing to the other party, Stephens has the potential to break that cycle in Ohio’s legislative branch.

As chair of the Lawrence County Republican Party, Stephens’ credentials as a solid Republican and his conservative leanings are not in doubt — but what he has shown throughout his career is an ability to work with those of all political stripes and get things done.

This approach to government also has its benefits politically. One need only look back to November, when Gov. Mike DeWine secured a resounding win in the general election, earning the support of many Democrats and independents.

It was only a year and a half prior that the far right in his party had opposed the governor, with some calling for impeachment and a primary challenge for not catering to their demands.

Instead, DeWine built a brand by avoiding the course rhetoric and hysteria of modern politics and has governed as a competent administrator.

Let us hope that Stephens follows this path in his approach to leadership and that, along with DeWine’s record, Ohio can serve as an example to the nation for a sorely-needed return to rational and sane governance.

When Stephens secured the his statehouse seat in 2019, we said on this page that he had the potential to be a true force in Columbus. The events of this week show we may have been prescient in that assessment.