COLUMBUS — State Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township) is leaving the legislature early to take a new position in Gov. John Kasich’s administration.
As of July 1, Ms. Sears will serve as assistant director of the Governor’s Office of Health Transformation under Director Greg Moody.
Ms. Sears was a rare early advocate three years ago for Mr. Kasich’s expansion of Medicaid in partnership with the federal Affordable Care Act, an unpopular position generally among Republicans that led to her facing an unsuccessful conservative challenge in the 2014 Republican primary election.
She was going to have to leave the legislature at the end of this year because of term limits, and there was no opening available to move to the Senate.
“I would have liked to have stayed forever, but the voters wouldn’t let me,” Ms. Sears said.
The move also means a pay raise, up to $116,000 from the roughly $60,000 earned as a rank-and-file state legislator. She had served in the number-three post in House Republican leadership but recently stepped down as the end of her term approached.
Ms. Sears said her position in favor of the Medicaid expansion helped.
“We have more people covered and we’re improving health care,” she said. “It gives us an opportunity to measure dollars while demanding good quality outcomes. We’ve been able to remove barriers to employment.”
That means Derek Merrin, the former mayor of Waterville who won a three-way Republican primary in Ms. Sears’ 47th District, will likely be pegged by fellow Republicans in the House to replace her. Ms. Sears supports that move, but the House has already recessed for the summer and is not scheduled to return until after Nov. 8 election.
Mr. Merrin faces Democratic opposition in that election from Michael Sarantou.
Also joining the health transformation office is Connie Wehrkamp, who served in communications in both official and campaign capacities for Mr. Kasich, and lobbyist Marjorie Yano. Ms. Wehrkamp will continue to serve a communications role in the office while Ms. Yano serves as legislative liaison.
“Ohio’s health transformation has been remarkable under Governor Kasich’s leadership, but our work is not done,” Mr. Moody said. “Barbara, Connie. and Marjorie join the team at a critical time as we work to implement some of the most comprehensive health system reforms in the state’s history.”
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