Ohio reps oust Republican speaker amid bribery probe

Politics

FILE – In this Monday, July 18, 2016, file photo, former Speaker of the Ohio House Larry Householder speaks during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Householder, the Ohio House speaker now accused in a $60 million federal bribery probe, plays the long game when it comes to politics. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (News Nation/WCMH) — In a historic, unanimous and bipartisan vote Thursday, the Ohio House ousted its Republican speaker as the chamber’s top leader following his indictment in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme.

Rep. Larry Householder is the first Ohio House speaker ever removed by the chamber, according to the Ohio History Connection. His nametag was unscrewed from the speaker’s dais shortly after the vote, but he still retains his seat in the GOP-led Legislature.

Remaining members of Householder’s leadership team said lawmakers didn’t take the decision on his removal lightly, “but it was clear that Mr. Householder is unable to effectively lead the House.”

Rep. Bob Cupp (R-Lima) called the vote “the most important thing” the House could do Thursday.

“There is no doubt that people feel betrayed, used, and it’s been a stain on the House, and people want to make sure we begin anew,” Cupp told reporters following the vote.

Cupp, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice, and Householder’s No. 2, Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Jim Butler (R-Oakwoof), were potential candidates to be the next speaker. Cupp was later made the new speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives in a 55-38 vote.

Householder, of Glenford, and four associates were 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 Ohio nuclear plants.

FILE – In this Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, file photo, Republican Ohio state Rep. Larry Householder, of District 72, sits at the head of a legislative session as Speaker of the House, in Columbus. The House is prepared to take a vote Thursday, July 30, 2020 that could remove Householder, who is accused in a $60 million federal bribery probe, from his leadership position. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

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.

The House session Thursday morning took a matter of minutes, with 90 representatives voting in favor of vacating the office of the speaker. Nine didn’t vote, including Householder, who was not present.

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.

A federal grand jury formally indicted the five on Thursday, charging each with a single count of racketeering.

“Dark money is a breeding ground for corruption. This investigation continues,” said U.S. Attorney David DeVillers, referring to legal campaign funds that don’t have to report the source of their donations.

Borges involvement in the case “has been wildly overstated,” said his attorney, Karl Schneider.

“The accusations against him are wrong and unfortunate and the case against him is on shaky ground out of the gate,” Schneider said. “He was never part of any would-be enterprise and we expect when the facts play out this attempted over-reach to include him will fail.”

Messages were left with the other defendants’ attorneys seeking comment.

Householder is the second Ohio House of Representatives speaker to be under criminal investigation by the FBI in recent years. Former speaker Cliff Rosenberger resigned abruptly in April 2018 after saying he was aware federal agents were asking questions about his activities and had protectively hired a criminal defense attorney.

Rosenberger wasn’t charged, and a lawyer for him has said the former lawmaker did nothing wrong.

Jai Chabria, a Republican strategist in Ohio, called the vote about Householder expected but said what the GOP does next is more important now.

Three other potential candidates to be the next speaker — Reps. Rick Carfagna, Tim Ginter and Craig Riedel — withdrew from the race Wednesday and threw their support to Cupp.

“Out of chaos comes opportunity, and the leadership they elect today will be able to course correct and hopefully set a positive agenda for the state,” said Chabria, who also served as senior adviser to former GOP Gov. John Kasich.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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