COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Larry Householder has found himself under the cloud of a federal investigation before.
The last time it happened, the once-powerful Ohio state lawmaker was ultimately never charged, bided his time and then returned to the House and eventually to his second stretch as House speaker.
In politics, sometimes what’s past is prologue.
Householder is expected to make his case Tuesday for not being expelled from his House seat amid a second federal probe, after colleagues removed him as speaker and he was re-elected. If he manages to prevent the bipartisan effort to remove him now, it could set the stage for yet another political comeback by the Perry County Republican.
The difference this time is that Householder is under federal indictment. And while he has pleaded not guilty, two co-defendants and an involved nonprofit have all pleaded guilty in the case and FirstEnergy, the energy company at the heart of the latest scandal, has acknowledged in court filings making the bulk of the payments in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme.
Still, Householder maintains his innocence and will likely assert that colleagues should assume he is, too, until proven otherwise.
He and four associates were arrested in July in an investigation connected to legislation containing a ratepayer-funded bailout of two Ohio nuclear power plants. The $1 billion rescue would have added a new fee to every electricity bill in the state and directed over $150 million a year through 2026 to the plants near Cleveland and Toledo.
Federal prosecutors allege Householder and his allies took FirstEnergy money in exchange for orchestrating a scheme to elect Householder speaker, put his allies into House seats, then to pass the bailout bill and thwart a subsequent ballot effort to repeal it.
If he is convicted of the federal charges against him, he could face up to 20 years in prison and automatic removal from the House.
In 2004, Householder left the House the first time due to term limits while he and several top advisers were under federal investigation for alleged money laundering and irregular campaign practices. The government later closed the case without filing charges.
He surprised state political observers by launching plans to return to the chamber in 2015. Householder told The Associated Press ahead of that successful campaign that he had “unfinished business involving the district.”
“And it’s just something I love,” he said at the time. “It’s in my blood.”
After a nasty battle, Householder was again elected speaker in 2019.
Tuesday’s committee hearing would be the first time Householder has spoken publicly since being reelected to his House seat in November.
Both Democrats and Republicans have introduced resolutions to expel him from the chamber in a rare bipartisan move after a year-long war of words to address the disgraced lawmaker’s continued presence in the House.
“A cloud will continue to hang over this chamber until we vote on this resolution and expel Rep. Householder,” GOP state Rep. Brian Stewart said last Wednesday in his sponsor testimony. “We feel no joy in doing so and we acknowledge that this has been a difficult issue for a number of members.”
Speaker Bob Cupp, a fellow Republican, said in a May 26 statement that his members are divided on the question of Householder’s political future. Some prefer to see the criminal proceedings play out first, while others want him removed right away. Those lawmakers believe Householder’s conduct was, at minimum, “grossly unethical,” Cupp said, and egregious enough to warrant a declaration of probable cause by a grand jury.
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.