(The Center Square) – Most of the same people who voted to expel former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder from the House likely will have a hand in picking his successor.
Legislative rules say Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, will pick a screening committee to take and review applications for the seat, which covers Perry and Coshocton counties, along with parts of Licking County. That group will name finalists to the House GOP caucus, which will appoint someone to fill the remaining 18 months on Householder’s term.
The House voted 75-21 on Wednesday to remove Householder, R-Glenford, after a long, spirited debate, which included Householder’s denial of any wrongdoing. It was the first time an Ohio lawmaker had been expelled since 1857, when a member was removed for punching another member.
“No member of the Ohio House condones the conduct of Larry Householder described in the complaint for which he has been indicted of a federal crime. Rather, members differ as to whether he should be removed from the House – now as the Ohio Constitution permits or if and when he is convicted in court of criminal charges,” said Cupp, who voted to remove Householder. “Each has voted their conscience and their good faith of how best to proceed in this unique situation. Their individual decision should be respected.”
Householder denied he took bribes or engaged in a conspiracy and argued impeachment is the process to remove a member, rather than an expulsion.
“It doesn’t matter whose name is in that resolution, I would be standing in opposition to this resolution. Frankly, until due process works itself out and until these allegations are proven to be true, you do not know if this conduct occurred,” Householder said from the House floor. “I have not nor have I ever took a bribe or provided a bribe. I have not nor I have ever solicited a bribe. I have not nor have I ever sold legislation, never ever. These accusations are accusations. I intend fully to defend myself, and I intend to be acquitted.”
Householder also told House members they did not know the facts because the facts are not known, and he questioned the members' right to remove him from office after he was reelected.
“You didn’t hire me. The people of the 72nd district hired me, Householder said. "They looked at my file back in November and saw all the evidence or lack of evidence and they made a decision, and 72% of the people decided they wanted to return me to this Legislature.”
Sponsoring Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, called the resolution necessary because of Householder’s conduct and the reputation of the Ohio House.
“It’s unfortunate that Rep. Householder’s actions have made this resolution necessary. HR 69 is a necessary step in restoring honor, integrity and accountability to the House,” Stewart said. “I filed this resolution because I believe the reputation of this chamber is at stake. When your actions drag the reputation of this body through the mud, that is absolutely disorderly conduct at a minimum. In public service, how we do things matter as much as what we do.”
Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, said the House has no evidence against Householder, only allegations. He called the allegations serious and said the House should engage in an impeachment trial or wait until the criminal proceedings run their course.
The expulsion comes nearly a year after Householder was charged in what federal prosecutors called the largest bribery and corruption case in state history. In all, 42 Republicans voted to remove the former speaker, and 20 voted "no." Two did not vote. Thirty-three Democrats voted to remove, one voted "no" and one did not vote.
“Now we’ve come full circle, again being given a choice to restore integrity to the people’s House, and after two Republican speaker scandals in three years, we had no choice but to act,” House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron, said. “Make no mistake, there is no joy in seeing a former Ohio speaker removed from office in disgrace, but this is our opportunity to stand against corruption and to turn a page on this dark chapter in Ohio history and begin to rebuild the people’s trust in government that’s supposed to work for them.”
Householder, along with four co-conspirators, were charged 11 months ago in what federal prosecutors called the largest political corruption case in state history. Three of the six entities have pleaded guilty. Householder has pleaded not guilty.
Also charged were former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, lobbyist Neil Clark, the Oxley Group co-founder Juan Cespedes and strategist John Longstreth.
The U.S. attorney’s office said the conspiracy involves more than $60 million paid to a 501(c)(4) entity to pass and uphold a billion-dollar nuclear plant bailout.
The charging documents said the group conspired to launder millions of dollars in bribes through the entity Generation Now. Court documents show the enterprise received millions of dollars in exchange for Householder and the group’s help in passing House Bill 6, which saved two Ohio nuclear power plants from closing.
Longstreth admitted in his plea to organizing Generation Now for Householder, knowing it would be used to receive bribe money to further Householder’s bid for speaker of the House. Longstreth managed Generation Now bank accounts, and he said he concealed the energy company was the source of the funding.
Cespedes admitted he orchestrated payments to Generation Now, and he knew the payments were meant to help Householder politically in return for help in passing HB 6.
HB 6 created a new Ohio Clean Air Program to support nuclear energy plants and some solar power facilities. Electricity consumers were to fund the program with the surcharge that ran through 2027.
The fee, which was scheduled to begin Jan. 1, was stopped by the Ohio Supreme Court in late December. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost also reached a deal with FirstEnergy to stop what would have been a $120 million windfall for the company this year based on another part of HB 6.