‘This is all purely political’ Former Ohio House Speaker to address lawmakers mulling his ouster
CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Ohio lawmakers could move closer Tuesday to expelling fellow State Rep. Larry Householder, who faces charges in what federal prosecutors say is likely the biggest public corruption scandal in state history.
The proposal would require a two-thirds vote in the Ohio House of Representatives, or 66 members out of 99.
If it happens, it would be the first time in more than a century lawmakers ousted one of their own. In 1857, a Democrat from Hamilton County, Rep. John P. Slough, was kicked out after punching another lawmaker in the mouth on the House floor, according to our media partner, the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Now, both Democrat and Republican lawmakers are backing resolutions saying Householder should not continue to serve in public office in light of his indictment on bribery and racketeering charges.
They heard arguments for and against expelling him last week.
On Tuesday, Householder has the chance to speak during the 4 p.m. House Rules and Reference Committee meeting.
Householder, R-Glenford, tells FOX19 NOW he will address the committee in person at the statehouse.
“This is a big day for me. This is a coming out party for me,” Householder said. “This is the first time since July 20 last year I have a stage to be able to talk.”
He’s fighting their attempts to remove him from office and all federal charges, saying “This is all purely political.”
He cites “the left who spent millions trying to beat me in the primaries,” “the globalists movement backed by George Soros” and “the socialist playfield” that “totally goes against our constitutional republic democracy that we have in the United States that the people elect the representatives.”
“They try to defame you, they investigate you and they indict you. They did it to me, and they are trying to do it to (former President) Donald Trump,” Householder said.
“The next thing they do is try to remove you from office. If all else fails, they just try to reverse the will of the voters and the election and if that happens it’s just a terrible, horrible day for voters all over the state of Ohio.”
After Householder has his say during the committee meeting, House Speaker Bob Cupp could call for a vote on the House floor, or the resolutions could make their way through the normal process out of committee to the floor for a vote.
Wednesday is the next time the full House is scheduled to meet.
Lawmakers already stripped Householder of his speakership last summer, shortly after he was indicted along with four other men in what federal prosecutors have said is likely the biggest public corruption scandal in Ohio history.
Federal prosecutors allege in court records Householder was the central player in a scheme that saw utility companies funnel nearly $61 million through dark money groups to position him as speaker to pass a $1.3 billion bailout, House Bill 6, for two nuclear plants and then defend it against a referendum attempt.
Since Householder’s arrest, Ohio’s elections chief and attorney general both filed complaints with the state elections commission against him related to campaign finances linked to the federal investigation.
Householder has pleaded not guilty and faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted.
He remains free on his own recognizance and was re-elected to his House seat last fall.
He has not been appointed to any House committees, but he can sponsor and vote on bills as he continues to collect his taxpayer-funded salary, which is more than $67,000.
Householder said Tuesday he remains under a federal gag order that prohibits him from discussing the specific evidence in his case.
“I did not nor have I ever accepted a bribe,” he said. “I have not nor have I ever solicited a bribe. I have never in my career ever sold legislation. I work for the people. That has been my mantra since I became a public official.
“I work for the people and the voters. It’s an unfortunate situation to go through, but the fact of the matter is I look forward to the day I can tell my side of the story. Up until now the only story that has been told is the theory the FBI has.”
He said the federal investigation remains ongoing.
“They are still seeking the evidence to try to make these accusations stick. I think at the end of the day I I’m going to be in a courtroom somewhere in Cincinnati and at that point we are going to have a chance to tell our side of the story. I think when it’s all said and done I am going to walk out of that courtroom a free man and all these accusations are going to be proven false.”
Of the four other men charged in connection with the alleged scheme, two pleaded guilty last fall to participating in a racketeering conspiracy and face up to 20 years in prison; a third committed suicide in March, Neil Clark, and the other, Matt Borges, pleaded not guilty and remains free on his own recognizance as well.
A non-profit political group that also was charged pleaded guilty in February to a federal racketeering charge involving House Bill 6.
Generation Now helped receive more than $60 million in bribes that FirstEnergy Corp. and its affiliates gave Householder and his allies in exchange for the passage of a $1.3 billion bailout for two aging nuclear power plants that a FirstEnergy subsidiary once owned, court records show.
When we asked Householder about the guilty pleas, he responded: “It has nothing to do with me at all. Every individual is an individual. I have no idea about why they pleaded guilty or needed to plead guilty. I know that I am innocent. I know that I am innocent and I intend to prove that I am innocent.”
As for Clark’s suicide, Householder says; “That’s just tragic. It just really is tragic. Neil and I had an interesting relationship over the years. There are times that Neil and I hated each other and there were times we really liked each other. I just have to think that there was much more involved in Neil’s life like health issues that eventually led to his issues.
“I hadn’t talked to Neil since obviously last July. I can tell you that based on what he told others he thought he was innocent as well. His attorney thought that as well. I can’t think this case was the only thing weighing on his mind.”
After Clark’s died in March, federal prosecutors requested the indictment against him be dismissed.
Householder said he saw a report recently that Clark put on a “DeWine for Governor” T-shirt before he ended his life.
“I think he’s trying to send a message to all of us with that shirt. I can’t tell you what message that Neil had in his mind, but I think everybody needs to reach into their own heart and try to figure out what Neil was trying to tell us.”
In a committee hearing last week, State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, noted that previous house members were allowed to remain in in office despite criminal charges.
Seitz was part of Householder’s leadership team at the time of his indictment.
He proposed the motion last year to strip Householder of his speakership following his indictment, something that was never done before.
Seitz said at the time it would send the Legislature a clear message.
He has not been as inclined to remove Householder from office now, though.
“No House or Senate member has ever been expelled in Ohio history,” Seitz told FOX19 NOW earlier this year. “It sets a very dangerous precedent.”
Another conservative local lawmaker, Tom Brinkman, R-Mt. Lookout, tells FOX19 NOW there already is a process in place that has served Ohio well for these situations: Convicted felons cannot serve in public office in Ohio.
But now, Ohio lawmakers can propose and hold committee meetings whether to expel their colleagues for disorderly conduct.
Brinkman said he has concerns “they don’t even know what the definition is of disorderly conduct.”
He noted Householder stood for election last fall “with all the data we know now and he got over 50 percent of the vote. If they do this, they better be darn sure they know what they are doing because they are overturning an election.”
Other lawmakers such as State Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Hyde Park, adamantly say Householder needs to go.
Kelly said she is surprised it’s taken this long for her fellow lawmakers to act.
“I know a lot of folks have thought there should have been action on this matter long before now, so it will be interesting to see if now is finally the time,” she said.
“I am going to vote in favor of expelling Rep. Householder. People should be able to have faith in their government, that we are working for them and do what is best for them and I think what’s happened at the statehouse is certainly unbecoming of the legislature. It isn’t doing right by the people we represent. I just don’t think corruption should have its face in government. People should be able to trust that every elected official is doing right by them. If we look at this in the contest of any other line of work we probably wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now.
“If somebody was in a similarly situated situation in a different line of work they would probably not still be in that job,” she said. “This is all totally unprecedented,” Kelly said. “I’m not sure that we’ve ever seen this level of alleged corruption either. These are definitely some extraordinary circumstances.”
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