COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio House ousted its Republican speaker as the chamber’s top leader in a historic, unanimous and bipartisan vote Thursday after he was charged in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme.
Rep. Larry Householder is the first Ohio House speaker ever removed by the chamber, according to the Ohio History Connection. For now, he still retains his seat in the GOP-led Legislature.
Remaining members of Householder’s leadership team had said he deserves the presumption of innocence but “lost the trust of his colleagues and the public” and couldn’t effectively lead the House.
“This is the most important thing that we’ve done today,” said GOP Rep. Bob Cupp, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice who, along with Householder’s No. 2, Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Jim Butler, is a potential candidate to be the next speaker. “There is no doubt that people feel betrayed, used, and it’s been a stain on the House, and people want to make sure we begin anew.”
Householder, of Glenford, and four associates were identified in a July 21 federal affidavit as allegedly taking part in a pay-to-play scheme involving corporate money secretly funneled to them for personal and political use in exchange for helping to pass House Bill 6 to financially bail out two FirstEnergy nuclear plants. Householder was one of the driving forces behind the legislation, which included a fee to every electricity bill in the state and directed over $150 million a year through 2026 to the plants near Cleveland and Toledo.
Householder had ignored calls for his resignation from colleagues in both parties. A decision on when to schedule a vote to choose a new speaker will be made by Assistant Majority Floor Leader Anthony DeVitis, of Green.
Three other potential candidates to be the next speaker — Reps. Rick Carfagna, Tim Ginter and Craig Riedel — withdrew from the race Wednesday and threw their support to Cupp.
Householder, his long-time adviser Jeffrey Longstreth, former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges and lobbyists Neil Clark and Juan Cespedes could each face up to 20 years in prison if they’re convicted for their alleged work to pass the bailout and block attempts to overturn it, according to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI.
A federal grand jury formally indicted the five on Thursday, charging each with a single count of racketeering.
“Dark money is a breeding ground for corruption. This investigation continues,” said U.S. Attorney David DeVillers, referring to legal campaign funds that don’t have to report the source of their donations.
Messages were left with defendants’ attorneys seeking comment.
Borges involvement in the case “has been wildly overstated,” said his attorney, Karl Schneider.
“The accusations against him are wrong and unfortunate and the case against him is on shaky ground out of the gate,” Schneider said. “He was never part of any would-be enterprise and we expect when the facts play out this attempted over-reach to include him will fail.”
Householder is the second speaker to be under criminal investigation by the FBI in recent years. Former speaker Cliff Rosenberger resigned abruptly in April 2018 after saying he was aware federal agents were asking questions about his activities and had protectively hired a criminal defense attorney.
Rosenberger wasn’t charged, and a lawyer for him has said the former lawmaker did nothing wrong.
Associated Press writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus contributed to this report. Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.