Nearly a year after a racketeering indictment, Ohio House expels Householder

By: - June 16, 2021 4:05 pm

Larry Householder addresses reporters June 16 after lawmakers voted to expel him from the General Assembly. Photo by Jake Zuckerman.

The Ohio House voted Wednesday to expel Larry Householder, arrested on charges of public corruption nearly one year ago, from the chamber his Republican — and even some Democratic — colleagues thrice elected him to control.

The expulsion could mark the end of Householder’s decades-long political career, which has included a previous tenure as speaker of the House in the 2000s that was derailed by a separate FBI investigation. No charges were filed at the time.

The House voted 75-21 to eject Householder. All but one Democrat voted in support. Republicans split on the issue.

Wednesday’s vote extinguishes Householder’s political flame, but he remains innocent until proven guilty as his criminal trial draws nearer. Both he and former Ohio Republican Party chairman turned lobbyist Matt Borges await trial.

Jeff Longstreth, Householder’s former political adviser, and Juan Cespedes, a lobbyist, both pleaded guilty to racketeering charges. Neil Clark, a lobbyist and once a towering figure in Ohio politics, was charged as well but pleaded innocent. He died by suicide before trial earlier this year.

Federal prosecutors accused the men of secretly accepting $61 million from FirstEnergy Corp. via a dark money, pass-through entity. They allegedly used the funds for personal enrichment and to engineer the passage of House Bill 6, a coal and nuclear bailout worth an estimated $1.3 billion to the company.

After his July 2020 arrest, House lawmakers quickly dethroned Householder as speaker. However, all but a handful of Republicans voted down an effort from Democrats to expel him. Speaking to House leadership on Tuesday, a confident Householder denied the allegations against him. On Wednesday, he listened from the House floor in silence as lawmakers publicly debated his fate.

Battle lines

Those seeking Householder’s ouster emphasized the House is not a courtroom and thus can apply its own professional standards. They said the 43-page indictment and the plea deals entered into by two allies (and one dark money political entity) warrant his expulsion from public office.

“If selling legislation does not count as disorderly conduct, then frankly, nothing does,” said Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, who sponsored the expulsion resolution along with Rep. Mark Fraizer, R-Newark.

Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Republican who voted against HB 6, dismissed those trying to reduce Householder’s indictment as “allegations.” He identified himself as the anonymous “Representative 6” in the indictment itself. Prosecutors say the unnamed lawmaker was subjected to political heat after the vote, funded by FirstEnergy.

These things occurred,” Koehler, said. “They’re not accusations. They’re not speculations.”

Householder’s defenders argued it’s premature to punish him before he faces trial. Some argued that the allegations against him don’t qualify as “disorderly conduct,” the undefined Constitutional threshold for expulsion.

“This is about due process. It’s about the Constitution. It’s not about that man sitting right over there,” said Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, pointing at Householder.

What’s more, Householder won reelection in November, despite the indictment against him.

“We do not get to choose who represents someone else’s district,” said Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, who chaired the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee as HB 6 went through.

At around 3 p.m., Householder began what would be his last floor speech of the 134th General Assembly.

He reiterated a claim of his innocence and said the allegations against him do not qualify as disorderly conduct. He also criticized lawmakers for banishing him from the chamber without gathering any evidence of their own.

“I have not, nor have I ever, took a bribe, or provided a bribe,” he said. “I have not, nor have I ever, solicited a bribe. And I have not, nor have I ever, sold legislation.”

Breaking down the vote

Twenty-one Republicans voted against expulsion: Tom Brinkman, Jamie Callender, Sara Carruthers, Al Cutrona, Jay Edwards, Sarah Fowler Arthur, Jennifer Gross, Brett Hudson Hillyer, Householder, Don Jones, Derek Merrin, Jena Powell, Bill Seitz, Dick Stein, Jason Stephens, Nino Vitale, Scott Wiggam, Shane Wilkin, Bob Young and Paul Zeltwanger.

Only one Democrat, Rep. Joe Miller, of Amherst, voted against expulsion. He said in a statement Householder could have been removed by voters via a petition from constituents and should have been defeated in a primary. He said he did not come to Columbus to “play politics.”

Three representatives did not cast a vote — Democratic Rep. Sedrick Denson and Republicans Diane Grendell and Kris Jordan (who was in attendance).

Some of the lawmakers who voted to protect Householder have close ties to HB 6. Of the bill’s 11 sponsors (10 of whom are still in the House), six voted against expulsion: Vitale, Stein, Seitz, Jones, Hillyer, and Callender.

Vitale ran the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee at the time. Stein ran a subcommittee created by Householder to review HB 6 specifically. Callender and Wilkin were the bill’s lead sponsors.

Edwards served on Householder’s leadership team. He was anonymously mentioned by prosecutors as present for a meeting to discuss the importance of thwarting a ballot referendum seeking to overturn the bill, according to comments from Clark in an interview with Cleveland.com

Nine members of the House voted against a procedural motion to bring the expulsion resolutions to the floor but went on to support them.

Leadership speaks

House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, voted to expel Householder Wednesday after months of studiously avoiding comment on the subject.

Speaking to reporters afterward, he called the scenario at large an “aberration.” He sidestepped questions on what the expulsion means for HB 6, the bulk of which is still state law.

“For me, the deciding factor was that the unethical conduct reached such a level that a federal grand jury found there was probable cause that there was a crime,” he said. “There doesn’t have to be a crime, but it was so egregious that there was probable cause that it was. It seems to me, that meets the definition in the Ohio Constitution of disorderly conduct.”

House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron, said it’s now time to right the ship and focus on issues that matter to Ohioans.

“We have not been able to focus on the matters of the people of this state,” she said. “We have a budget crisis, we’re dealing with COVID, we’re dealing with broadband issues, we’re dealing with significant voting bills, but everyone’s attention has been turned just to focus on one man instead of the 11 million people of this state.”

Sykes called for a full repeal of HB 6, as she has in the past.

The bill became law with nine Democrats voting in favor. It was rammed through the process by a Speaker, who 26 of 38 Democrats joined with Republicans to vote for. Sykes distanced the caucus from the legislation and ensuing scandal.

“It could not have happened without 40 Republicans, and ultimately, it was a Republican bill with Republican co-sponsors, and that is the reason why it passed,” she said. “Ultimately, this is a chamber with a supermajority of Republicans.”

After the vote, Householder approached the clerk and walked out from the chamber. He reiterated claims of his innocence to reporters gathered outside and insisted the expulsion was unconstitutional. There, he left open the possibility of a return to public office, and issued a warning to those who he feels crossed him.

“Fellow elected officials who didn’t like public citizen Householder, are really not going to like private citizen Householder,” he said.

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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.

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