COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — In a historic, unanimous and bipartisan vote Thursday, the Ohio House ousted its Republican speaker as the chamber’s top leader following his indictment 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. His nametag was unscrewed from the speaker’s dais shortly after the vote, but he still retains his seat in the GOP-led Legislature.
Remaining members of Householder’s leadership team said lawmakers didn’t take the decision on his removal lightly, “but it was clear that Mr. Householder is unable to effectively lead the House.”
GOP Rep. Bob Cupp called the vote “the most important thing” the House could do Thursday.
“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,” Cupp told reporters following the vote.
Cupp, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice, and Householder’s No. 2, Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Jim Butler, are potential candidates to be the next speaker. Cupp didn’t respond to questions about that.
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 Ohio 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.
The House session Thursday morning took a matter of minutes, with 90 representatives voting in favor of vacating the office of the speaker. Nine didn’t vote, including Householder, who was not present.
Most — but not all — House members were wearing masks as they gathered amid the coronavirus pandemic. They sat socially distanced for the vote, but many shook hands and fraternized as colleagues reunited after weeks of summer break.
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.
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.”
Messages were left with the other defendants’ attorneys seeking comment.
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.
Jai Chabria, a Republican strategist in Ohio, called the vote about Householder expected but said what the GOP does next is more important now.
House lawmakers scheduled a Thursday afternoon caucus where they planned to discuss the next steps for the chamber, including who replaces Householder.
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.
“Out of chaos comes opportunity, and the leadership they elect today will be able to course correct and hopefully set a positive agenda for the state,” said Chabria, who also served as senior adviser to former GOP Gov. John Kasich.
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Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus and John Seewer in Toledo 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.
About the Headline Photo: A board reads “yes” votes as members of the Ohio House of Representatives vote to remove Rep. Larry Householder as Speaker of the House on Thursday, July 30, 2020 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. The Ohio House has ousted its Republican speaker as the chamber’s top leader in a historic, unanimous and bipartisan vote after he was charged in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme. (Joshua A. Bickel /The Columbus Dispatch via AP)