COLUMBUS (AP) — Nine days after federal officials released details of a $60 million bribery probe, the Ohio House is preparing for an historic vote on whether to remove the powerful Republican speaker alleged to have led the scheme.
The House will convene Thursday after a secret vote taken Tuesday by the Republican caucus during a closed-door meeting indicated enough support to boot Speaker Larry Householder from his leadership role. Democrats also called for his ouster.
The Ohio House has never before removed a speaker, according to the Ohio History Connection, which was formerly the Ohio Historical Society.
Remaining members of Householder’s leadership team said in a statement that he deserves the presumption of innocence but “has lost the trust of his colleagues and the public” and can’t effectively lead the House.
Householder, of Glenford, was one of five defendants 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, 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.
Householder has thus far ignored calls from colleagues in both parties to resign. He and his attorney have ignored or declined requests for comment about the allegations and about his plans.
It wasn’t clear under what authority the remaining members of Householder’s leadership team scheduled Thursday’s session. Under House rules, only the speaker can call a session. The power falls to his No. 2, Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Jim Butler, if the speaker is absent.
Bipartisan support for removing Householder as speaker has accumulated since the affidavit’s release. Rep. Niraj Antani, a Dayton Republican, described that move as “the first step to restoring integrity to the House.”
House Democratic leaders labeled the last week as “a dark time for our state” and asked the GOP “to do the right thing” Thursday.
“We refuse to let the latest GOP scandal derail the Ohio House of Representatives from the pressing work that needs to be done,” they said in a statement. “We do not need these distractions; we need to work to solve the critical issues facing working people and families in our state.”
Householder wouldn’t necessarily lose his House seat. Removing him as speaker would take 50 votes; expelling him from the House altogether would take 66. Republicans hold 61 seats, and Democrats have 38.
If he is removed, a decision on when to schedule a vote on his successor will be made by Assistant Majority Floor Leader Anthony DeVitis, of Green. Potential candidates for the job include Butler and Reps. Rick Carfagna, Bob Cupp, Tim Ginter and Craig Riedel.
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.