By Jake Zuckerman and Ohio Capital Journal

The quest to expel a Republican lawmaker who was criminally accused in what’s described as the largest public corruption scandal in state history gained new life Wednesday as lawmakers launched bipartisan efforts aimed at his ouster.

Two House Democrats — Jeff Crossman, of Parma, and Michele Lepore-Hagan, of Youngstown — triggered the action Tuesday after announcing plans to introduce a formal resolution to banish former House Speaker Larry Householder from the chamber.

Two House Republicans — Reps. Brian Stewart of Ashville and Mark Fraizer of Newark — introduced an expulsion resolution of their own shortly afterward. The two have publicly spoken out about the need to remove Householder, who has pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges, in the past.

“Let the process play out,” Householder said, sidling past reporters on his way to a House session.

Federal prosecutors accused Householder of secretly accepting $61 million from FirstEnergy Corp. and using it to support candidates to help elect him Speaker and pass a bailout worth an estimated $1.3 billion to the utility. He also allegedly used the funds to enrich himself personally, and thwart a ballot referendum to overturn the law. Four others were indicted alongside him, two of whom have pleaded guilty.

The next steps forward depend in large part on Householder’s political support in the caucus. If the resolution stalls in committee without a hearing for 30 days or more, a petition with signatures of 50 members can force it to the floor. Until then, Democrats would need buy-in from dozens of Republicans or House leadership.

In interviews Wednesday, 12 House Republicans (not including Householder) declined to state whether they’d vote to unseat Householder.

“I just really haven’t thought about it,” said Rep. Brett Hudson Hillyer, R-Urlichsville.

Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, who succeeded Householder as House Speaker, said in a statement there’s differing opinion among members on how to proceed. However, he declined to provide details on his own thinking, or even whether the matter would come up for a vote before the General Assembly recesses for the summer.

“I have consistently maintained that Larry Householder should resign from the Ohio House of Representatives,” he said. “The resolutions filed will receive the appropriate process according to House rules.”

Democrats held a press briefing to trumpet their movement on Householder, whose charges have loomed over the Statehouse since July 21, 2020.

They took credit for applying enough pressure on the issue to spur Stewart and Fraizer to act. Crossman said even if Householder were criminally acquitted, enough evidence (and three guilty pleas from alleged conspirators) has come to light to merit removal from the chamber — which he said requires a lower standard of evidence than a criminal conviction.

“I have no idea why my Republican colleagues are stonewalling,” Lepore-Hagan said. “Some in the Republican Party are downplaying the seriousness of this charge. Others might not want to stand up to the person who financed their campaigns.”

Stewart said he has been working on this since the session began in January.

Ideally, he said Cupp would put the matter up for a vote soon. However, Stewart said he wouldn’t rule out a discharge petition — which would amount to a challenge to Cupp, the leader of his caucus.

“We have tried to let people kick the tires on this as long as they could and have a full and fair open debate, but at some point, enough is enough. It’s time to act,” he said. “We’ve asked and answered all the questions we’re gonna ask and answer.”

In interviews with 16 House Republicans Wednesday, only one — House Majority Leader Bill Seitz, a vocal defender of parts of the legislation at the heart of the case against Householder — defended the former Speaker.

Seitz knocked the Democrats’ moves, saying they’re better at press conferences than legislation. He said even if the allegations against Householder are true, they don’t qualify as “disorderly conduct,” an undefined term for which the Ohio Constitution allows for expulsion.

“Disorderly conduct means disorderly conduct on the floor. That’s the only time it was successfully invoked, when one representative hit another representative in the face on the floor,” Seitz said.

Indeed, the last representative to be expelled was Rep. John P. Slough, a Cincinnati Democrat who punched Ashtabula County Republican Darius Caldwell in the face during a floor session in 1857.

Other Republican lawmakers surveyed on whether they’d vote to expel Householder on Wednesday include:

Expel

  • Kyle Koehler: “I’m ready to vote when they call it to the floor … I think it should have been taken care of January 4.”
  • Rodney Creech: “I’m gonna vote him out, but I really don’t want to talk about it.”

Declined to answer

  • Brian Baldridge: “That’s between me and the vote.”
  • Jamie Callender: “I will support leadership.”
  • Riordan McClain (referred to prior statement requesting that Householder resign)
  • Adam Bird (referred to prior statement requesting that Householder resign)
  • Tim Ginter: “I’m going to follow the lead of the Speaker.”
  • Dick Stein: “We’re having a discussion. We’ll have caucus over the next couple weeks to determine what’s going to happen.”
  • Sara Fowler Arthur
  • Sharon Ray
  • Don Jones
  • Jay Edwards

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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