For two months, Rep. Larry Householder has ignored widespread calls to resign following his arrest and alleged involvement in what prosecutors say is the biggest bribery scheme in Ohio political history.
Though he is on trial for racketeering, the Glenford Republican still serves as a state representative and has plenty of support from his native Perry County.
The Perry County Republican Party has endorsed Householder for a third term serving the 72nd District. It is one of the only endorsements Householder has received in the fallout of his arrest in July.
“He’s still our candidate,” explained Steve Baker, chairman of the Perry County Republican Party. “He still won the primary.”
The Ohio Republican Party has declined to endorse Householder this fall, as have the local parties in two other counties in his district — Coshocton and Licking. The Licking County Republican Party website does not even list Householder on its page of GOP elected officials from the area.
Householder is unopposed on the 2020 ballot, though four others have filed as longshot write-in candidates.
Baker said he is disappointed in the state party’s decision to not endorse Householder, noting a person is innocent until proven guilty.
Does Baker think Householder is innocent?
“I really don’t know,” he said. “Everything I’ve tried to read, it’s so complicated. I don’t understand it to be honest with you. It’s so many pages.”
In a subsequent discussion with the Ohio Capital Journal, Baker emphasized that he had no opinion of the Householder case either way and plans to reserve judgment until the trial has concluded.
An 81-page affidavit from federal prosecutors outlined a $61 million racketeering scheme allegedly organized by Householder and four other political operators. The group is accused of conspiring with the former FirstEnergy Solutions of Akron to get a $1.3 billion nuclear bailout bill approved by the legislature and signed into law.
Householder is said to have used millions of dollars in “dark money” to get political allies elected in order for him to become speaker of the house in 2019. He succeeded in getting House Bill 6 passed later that summer, though there is now an ongoing effort to get the law repealed.
Householder was ousted as House speaker after his arrest, but fellow Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives have declined to hold a vote to expel him from the chamber entirely.
Replacement Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, has said state law allows a member to be expelled once, but not twice. With Householder still running for re-election, legislators fear an expulsion vote this year just to see him return when sworn-in to a new term.
An expulsion vote may await Householder in 2021 if he is re-elected.
Baker said Householder deserves support unless eventually convicted. The party chairman has doubts about the integrity of the investigation, citing his own troubles with law enforcement involving a gaming arcade he used to operate in Perry County. Baker said his business was shut down after it was investigated for illegal gambling.
“Here we are four years later, and there’s game rooms all around me,” he complained. “I’m not real impressed with how the legal system works out. Mine was a political statement when they got me.”
Baker, who also serves on the Perry County Board of Elections and owns a used car dealership, said the Householder news came as a shock to him.
He thinks it came as a surprise to Householder as well. Baker said the two hung out the evening before Householder’s arrest on July 21.
“Sitting in the car lot, just bull—-ing. Larry told me, ‘In the political game, Steve, you always make enemies.’ It was kind of ironic when I got the call the next morning,” Baker said.
The continued support for Householder among Perry County residents is a reflection of the way he has served others, Baker added.
“You got to get to know him,” Baker said, recounting a story of Householder privately helping those impacted by a flood in nearby Corning. “He does a lot of things that people don’t know about.”
The party has received no local backlash for having endorsed Householder again, Baker said, though he still looks forward to the end of election season.
“I’ll be glad when it’s done,” he said.