Mailbag: Householder’s future, preventing future corruption, and drop boxes

By: - September 3, 2020 12:50 am

Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, at podium. Photo from Ohio House website.

The Ohio General Assembly is back to work, and so is the Ohio Capital Journal Mailbag.

Got a question about Ohio politics? Send them to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

“Can you explain why the @ohiogop voted to keep (Larry Householder) in office claiming they couldn’t remove him next time? Can’t they as the #supermajority just pass a bill to fix that?”

@mamamorinny on Twitter.

Answer: Yes, there is a proposed bill to deal with the Householder situation. Here’s a rundown of what is going on.

Rep. Larry Householder, R-Glenford, turned a lot of heads Tuesday when he returned to the Ohio House of Representatives floor. 

Householder faces racketeering charges as part of a federal investigation into the passage of a 2019 nuclear bailout bill. Tuesday marked his first return to the Ohio Statehouse since his arrest on July 21. 

Shortly after his arrest, the House voted unanimously to remove Householder as speaker. A Democratic member, Rep. Jeffrey Crossman of Parma, also tried to prompt a vote that would have removed Householder from the chamber entirely. 

The Republican majority tabled that vote, thus Householder was allowed to continue serving as a state representative. Newly-elected Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, defended the move as a matter of tactics. According to him, state law allows a member to be removed once for a given reason, but not twice. With Householder unopposed on the ballot for reelection to the 72nd District seat, Cupp said he wanted the chamber to keep its options open. 

Removing Householder right away could have theoretically allowed him to get reelected and simply return to the House in 2021. 

Crossman told the Ohio Capital Journal he heard from a Republican lawmaker who privately supported ousting Householder but wanted to wait for the next term to take that vote.

Crossman sees two potential snags with that delay. He is unsure if a member can be removed during a General Assembly term for conduct occurring in a previous term.

Even if they can be, Crossman said it is unclear if Republicans would take up the vote right away in a new term. Another delay to wait out the result of Householder’s criminal trial could take years, Crossman noted.

State Rep. Jeffrey Crossman, D-Parma

Crossman said he and fellow Democratic Rep. Gil Blair of Weathersfield have a legislative answer to that waiting game. 

Under current law, a person cannot serve in the Ohio General Assembly if they have been convicted of a felony. Their House Bill 750 would also make a person ineligible if they have been indicted on a public corruption offense (as Householder has). 

The bill, if enacted, would not apply to sitting members indicted on such a charge. It would however prevent Householder from starting a new term in 2021. 

HB 750 has been referred to the House State and Local Government Committee earlier this week and awaits its first hearing. 

“Are GOP electeds in the statehouse planning to do anything differently to prevent another Company A situation in future? Or are they just carrying on as though it was a few bad apples and nothing more?”

– @TrumDN on Twitter.

Answer: Yes, there are already a few legislative responses to the Householder scandal.

Besides the efforts to repeal House Bill 6, there are bills seeking to reform Ohio’s campaign finance laws. 

The existing campaign finance system played an important role in how the alleged bribery scheme worked, investigators have alleged. 

Registered 501(c)(4) nonprofits, ostensibly operating as “social welfare groups,” are not required by federal campaign finance laws to disclose any of their political donors. There is also no limit as to the amount of money that can be donated to them, as opposed to caps on donations given directly to candidates and political parties. 

The criminal complaint in the Householder case alleges that “Company A” (identified by reports as the former FirstEnergy Solutions of Akron) funneled money to these dark money groups, which in turn spent money to influence various elections and the legislative effort to pass HB 6.

How successful would the political operatives involved have been had all the exchanges of money been made public at the time?

That’s the central issue at hand for bipartisan legislation being considered by the Ohio General Assembly.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose is flanked by state Reps. Gayle Manning and Jessica Miranda during a press conference in support of HB 737.

State Reps. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park, introduced House Bill 737 last month. Manning’s son, state Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, has sponsored a companion bill in the Ohio Senate.

As the Ohio Capital Journal has reported, the legislation would not place new limits on political spending. The goal instead is to require public disclosure of all spending going forward. 

Transparency, the old line goes, is the best disinfectant.

“Are they going to propose more drop boxes for ballots?”

– @csloball on Twitter.

Answer: There are no legislative proposals seeking more ballot drop boxes this fall, though Democratic members continue to urge the secretary of state to take that action.

Drop boxes have emerged as a major concern for voting rights advocates in 2020. 

This stemmed from the primary election, which was postponed at the last minute by Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton due to COVID-19 concerns. 

The legislature decided Ohio should conduct the primary entirely by mail. That plan also required each Ohio county to have a drop box available for voters to submit completed ballots that way.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose has directed the 88 county boards of elections offices to have one drop box available for the General Election as well.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. (Photo by Justin Merriman/Getty Images)

In-person voting will be available on Election Day, but voting advocates view the drop boxes as an especially important tool this fall given the ongoing concerns with COVID-19 and the U.S. Postal Service. Use of a drop box means avoiding a crowded polling place on Nov. 3 and not needing to pay the cost of postage to mail in a ballot.

As such, there have been hopes that more drop boxes would be installed. LaRose is sticking to the one-per-county directive, asserting he does not have unilateral authority to allow for more. 

There are no active legislative proposals to counter that. Instead, the Ohio Democratic Party and several voter rights groups have filed separate lawsuits against LaRose with a goal of getting more drop boxes installed this fall.

Got a question about Ohio politics? Send them to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

Reading material

Here are some important and interesting Ohio Capital Journal articles you may have missed:

In ‘political pandemic,’ Ohio lawmakers punt on COVID-19 response – What has the Ohio General Assembly done to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic? Jake Zuckerman posed that question to the Ohio legislative leaders and reports what he heard.

Hours of opposition testimony, three hearings, lead to committee passage of school firearms policy bill – The state legislature continues to debate the presence of guns in Ohio schools, reporter Susan Tebben writes.

Fact-checking Trump’s claims on voting by mail and drop boxes – Election misinformation is a big issue this year. In this article I look at a few of Trump’s claims about absentee voting and find his statements do not match up with reality. 

Life, unvaccinated: One Ohioan shares her story – In this guest column, writer Kathryn Poe details her experience battling a rare blood disease and how it left her being an adult with “the immune system of a newborn baby.” Poe takes on the “common myths” associated with vaccines.

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.