Patton insists he will be vindicated

State Rep. Tom Patton (R-17) insisted that he will be “vindicated”  for breaking ranks with the republican majority and reneging on his support of Rep. Derek Merrin (R-42) for Ohio speaker of the house.

Speaking virtually to a February 8 meeting of the Middleburg Heights Republican Club, Patton said revelations to be revealed during the racketeering trial of former speaker Larry Householder will vindicate his decision to reverse his promised support for Merrin and instead vote with 21 other republicans—and the house’s full roster of 32 democrats—to elect Rep. Jason Stevens (R-93) as speaker by a 54-45 vote. He referred to at least some of the 45 members who supported Merrin as “troublemakers.”

In response to his vote for Stevens, members of the Strongsville GOP voted almost unanimously on January 30 to censure Patton, who has represented Strongsville in Columbus in either the house or senate since 2003. Two days later, a resolution for censure by the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County was referred to the party’s Disciplinary Committee. A committee recommendation is expected by the end of March. Patton didn’t attend the Strongsville nor the county meetings.

The Ohio House Republican Caucus, after the November elections that gave the party a veto-proof 67-32 super-majority in the chamber, unanimously agreed to elect Merrin as speaker when the legislature convened in January. As late as the morning of the January 3 vote, according to Shannon Burns, president of the Strongsville GOP, Patton assured him, amidst reports of defections, that he would vote, as agreed, for Merrin. However, Patton and the other 21 republicans instead voted with all 32 democrats to make Stevens the speaker, essentially electing a speaker who has more support from house democrats than he does from republicans.

On January 6, the GOP Ohio State Central Committee voted to censure Patton and the other 21 republican representatives who rescinded support for Merrin and voted with the democrats. The approved Central Committee resolution was a diluted version that doesn’t include penalties—such as withholding of endorsements and campaign funding—that were a part of an original, abandoned resolution.

Following the Ohio GOP censure, republican party organizations in at least 13 counties censured representatives who were among the “gang of 22.” In addition, the Lake County GOP adopted a “resolution of no confidence” and the Union County GOP sent a “letter of expectations” to Rep. Tracy Richardson (R-86) that spelled out future possible actions that may be taken against her if the party is “disappointed.”

The Strongsville GOP invited Patton to explain his reversal at its January 30 meeting. He declined to attend, but did exchange text messages with at least one attendee during the meeting. In one of the messages he indicated that he would be vindicated after the conclusion of the Householder trial. Two days earlier, he suggested the same when I ran into him at a local restaurant. At that time, he implied that Merrin’s name would come up during the trial, apparently in relation to the “casket carriers” mentioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Glatfelter. Glatfelter, in her opening statement, said Householder, who is accused of taking $65 million in bribes from First Energy to push legislation to “bail out” the electric utility, needed “casket carriers … people loyal to him without question.”

Patton was scheduled to attend the Middleburg Heights GOP meeting, but instead addressed attendees via a computer meeting platform, explaining that he was held up in Columbus.

During the meeting, he reiterated that he would be “vindicated” at the conclusion of the Householder trial, and said he asked Burns for the Strongsville GOP to hold off on action on the proposed censure until the trial is over. The Strongsville meeting drew a reported 125 attendees.

During the Middleburg Heights meeting, Patton said Merrin is “extreme,” and that Patton originally supported Rep. Brian Baldridge (R-90), a firefighter and paramedic who, this month, was appointed director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, as speaker.

Patton said he told Merrin that he didn’t agree with his agenda, including his “100 percent right to life,” and said Merrin “promised things that couldn’t be fulfilled.”

He didn’t explain why, despite his reservations, he voted to support Merrin at the time, except to say that “nobody was running against him.”

He said, however, that in Stevens, “I voted for the best conservative guy who was running.”

Asked why Patton was addressing the Middleburg Heights club, but would not address the Strongsville club, he said, “I get a fair hearing from you guys [apparently meaning the Middleburg Heights GOP]. I would have been walking into a firing squad [in Strongsville].”

An attendee noted that Patton attended a February 4 campaign fundraiser for unopposed Strongsville Councilman Gordon Short, which was attended by many GOP members, and there was no hostility.  Patton said he will address the Strongsville GOP after the Householder trial is over.

During a legislative session on January 24, Stevens, on at least two occasions, refused to recognize Merrin supporters who stood to be recognized on the House floor, according to Reps. Josh Willams, (R-41) and Ronald Ferguson (R-96), who said the “defectors” from Merrin to Stevens were led by lobbyists.

Williams said he rose to offer amendments to House rules when Stevens refused to recognize him.

“What happened yesterday was a travesty,” Williams said. “A violation of the Ohio Constitution.”

When asked at the Middleburg Heights meeting about Stevens’ actions on the floor, Patton defended the speaker and said a group of Merrin supporters “is doing what it can to disrupt the proceedings. The troublemakers will eventually go away when we get into the [state] budget [negotiations]. Those are the people who should be held accountable.”

Note: I am a member of the Cuyahoga County GOP Central Committee and advocacy chair of the Strongsville GOP.

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