Five men were charged. Four cases remain open. Three plea deals have been signed. Two alleged conspirators might cooperate with federal prosecutors.
But only one man, Rep. Larry Householder, R-Glenford, continues to shape state law and draw a taxpayer funded salary of roughly $62,000, even under shadow of a racketeering indictment described by prosecutors as the largest public corruption case in state history.
After Householder’s July 2020 arrest, 91 members in attendance voted unanimously to remove him as speaker, the throne from which he strongarmed the passage of House Bill 6. The legislation is now at the center of a federal prosecution against him.
However, 54 Republicans voted that day to quash an effort to expel Householder as a representative, as introduced by Rep. Jeff Crossman, D-Parma.
All Democrats and a handful of Republicans voted for expulsion. Republican House Finance Chairman Scott Oelslager, and Reps. Tom Patton, Gayle Manning, and Dave Greenspan were the only to defect. (Greenspan lost a reelection bid.)
Rep. Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican, subsequently won a caucus election to replace Householder. Despite political pressure, plea deals and an ongoing investigation, Cupp has repeatedly refused to definitively answer whether the caucus will seek to remove Householder.
His weekly press call Wednesday proved telling, edited only for clarity.
Jeremy Pelzer, Cleveland.com: I just wanted to put in the weekly question about whether, in the last couple of weeks, there have been any discussions by you or House Republicans about Larry Householder’s [political] fate?
Cupp: I have nothing further to report, Jeremy.
Pelzer: Is that because there haven’t been any discussions? Has there been any talk about it at all?
Cupp: Members talk about it a lot to each other. So, um, there’s nothing further to report.
Pelzer: Why can’t you report this if there’s talk going on? Is there any consensus coming among all this talk?
Cupp: I have nothing further to report
Pelzer: Why not? Why don’t you have anything to report? Why—
Cupp: Because I don’t
Pelzer: Why are you withholding this from the public?
Cupp: I’m not withholding anything from the public. I don’t have anything to report.
Ohio Capital Journal: Do you see any issue with Larry Householder continuing to draw a salary given the allegations against him?
Cupp: As you know, my position is that Larry Householder should resign.
Both Householder and his criminal defense attorney did not respond to requests for comment. Householder defended his refusal to resign in a March statement to the Statehouse News Bureau’s Karen Kasler.
“I’m qualified to serve, and I was elected to serve and I intend to serve the people of the 72nd House District of the state of Ohio to the best of my ability,” he said. “Nothing more to say.”
There are at least three different ways to expel a member from the House.
The Ohio Constitution gives each chamber of the legislature authority to expel members with a two-thirds voting majority. This could come via resolution, which must navigate the committee process, or by a motion on the House floor.
It also allows for expulsion via impeachment, which requires a simple majority in the House and a two-thirds majority in the Senate.
House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron, did not respond to a request through a spokesman to discuss Democrats’ strategy regarding Householder. Democrats control 35 seats in the House. Assuming Householder votes against expelling himself, the Democrats would need 31 of the 63 remaining votes.
A handful of Republican representatives have called for Householder’s removal, including Reps. Mark Frazier in a March interview; Brian Stewart on social media; Reggie Stoltzfus in a March interview; and Adam Bird, to the Columbus Dispatch.
Rep. Kyle Koehler, without naming Householder, said in a statement lawmakers must “clean up the Ohio House,” specifically the “mess made by House Bill 6.”
House Health Chairman Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, said in a text message Thursday he wouldn’t reveal whether he’s for or against expulsion, but said he has personally asked House leadership to put the matter up for a vote and into the public record.
“To me, it’s not about the outcome of the vote, it is about transparency and perception,” he said. “The citizens of Ohio deserve to know we are working for them; we are listening to them. Calling the vote allows each representative to be transparent in their actions, demonstrates that we faced the issue, and are not simply avoiding [it].”
Some members sought to sidestep questions. Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, said in March he’s follow Cupp’s lead, but wouldn’t answer specifics. Rep. Thomas Hall, R-Madison Twp., similarly evaded taking one side or the other.
Rep. Ron Ferguson, R-Wintersville, said Thursday he had no opinion.
“I don’t waste much energy on that debate,” he said. “Too much else to work on.”
House Majority Leader Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, in a March 10 floor speech, defended Householder and denied the “false insinuation that there was anything corrupt in this chamber about the passage of House Bill 6.”
The bulk of the allegation against Householder, as laid out in a 43-page indictment, is simple enough: FirstEnergy Corp., a large public utility company, paid $61 million into an account that Householder secretly controlled and used to elect a slate of candidates. Those candidates elected him Speaker and helped pass House Bill 6. Prosecutors described the payments as bribery.
He also allegedly used some of the funds to pay legal debts, credit card debts, campaign expenses, and repairs to his Florida home.
FirstEnergy, which is not identified by name in the indictment and has not been charged with a crime, also allegedly funded an effort to thwart a ballot referendum. The effort included media buys and outright bribery of a manager of signature collectors (a large volume of signatures are needed to place a referendum on the ballot).
HB 6 also extended an estimated $700 million bailout to two coal-fired power plants in Indiana and Ohio, and gutted Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards.
Alongside Householder, four of his allies were charged. They include his political strategist Jeff Longstreth; Generation Now, the 501(c)(4) entity used to receive FirstEnergy monies without disclosing the source and spending it on HB 6 efforts; and lobbyists Neil Clark, Matt Borges and Juan Cespedes.
In a recorded call prosecutors said they obtained, Clark, speaking to an unidentified recipient, praised Householder because he “will go to the wall, but those guys that go to the wall can only do it once a year because if they do it all the time, everybody knows they’re pay to play.”
Generation Now, Cespedes and Longstreth have all pleaded guilty and await sentencing. Clark died in an apparent suicide earlier this year. Both Borges and Householder have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.