Nearly eight months after the FBI arrested former Speaker Larry Householder in connection with a $60 million bribery scheme, House Republicans plan to debate whether he should remain in office.
The private meeting, scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, will be the first time they've gathered as a group to discuss Householder since the General Assembly started Jan. 4.
How did this all start?
Federal prosecutors arrested the Perry County Republican in July 2020 on bribery and racketeering charges. They claimedHouseholder used money from FirstEnergy and others to fuel his bid to lead the Ohio House, pass a $1 billion bailout for two nuclear plants and defend that law against a ballot initiative to block it.
Householder pleaded not guilty.
Republicans quickly removed him as their leader, but they let him remain in the Ohio House of Representatives. He has no committee assignments, doesn't speak during floor sessions and introduced just two legislative proposals so far.
How would expulsion work?
The state constitution permits each chamber (Ohio House and Senate) to "punish its members for disorderly conduct" and expel him or her with a two-thirds majority vote. In the House, that's 66 votes.
This could happen in one of three ways: House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, could bring a resolution directly to the floor. A House member could introduce a resolution that would go through the normal process of committee hearings and votes. Or a representative could try to make a motion from the floor.
Cupp's resolution would be the easiest and quickest option for Republicans hoping to avoid a long, drawn-out debate about Householder's future.
Are there enough votes?
House Republicans have 64 members – 63 if you take Householder out of the equation – which means at least three Democrats need to vote for expulsion.
That shouldn't be a problem. A spokesman for House Democrats said all 35 members would vote yes, so Republicans only need to bring 31 votes.
Several Republicans told the USA Today Network Ohio Bureau they had the votes to remove Householder if it ever came up for a vote. Cupp will want more than the bare minimum, though.
Here's how Republicans are split.
There's the "vote to expel" supporters like Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville.
"If a bank teller gets caught stealing, they don’t get to handle the cash drawer while their case works through the courts," Stewart said in a tweet March 4. "When a legislator is indicted for selling legislation, he shouldn’t be left in a position to introduce bills."
There's the "let the court case play itself out" folks like Reps. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, and Tom Brinkman, R-Mount Lookout.
Brinkman said Ohio lawmakers should follow the mechanism already in place: "When you are convicted of a felony, you are removed from office."
Householder's district knew about the allegations when they re-elected him in the fall. Removing him would be going against the will of the voters, he said.
"Anything beyond that is falling to cancel culture," Brinkman said. "I don’t think that serves our state and our nation."
In between those two sides are representatives like Cupp, who would rather Householder "do the right thing" and resign, taking the onus off House Republicans to act.
"I think he should resign," said Rep. Adam Bird, R-New Richmond. "I think that the guilty pleas that the people that he hired to run the enterprise tells me that he was involved.”
What does Householder say?
The former speaker says he's innocent and plans to "vigorously" defend himself. In the meantime, he wants to stay put.
"Removal of a sitting House member is completely unprecedented in Ohio history," Householder said in a text message. "To take such unprecedented action would subvert the will of 31,000 local citizens that voted for me even knowing of these allegations. Members of the Ohio House do not elect representatives, the people they serve do."
What about Democrats?
They're tired of waiting for House Republicans to act.
"Quite frankly, if they don't do it soon, we probably will," Rep. Jeff Crossman, D-Parma, said. "We've said (Householder) is their mess to clean up, but we're three months into the new General Assembly and they haven't moved."
Crossman also introduced a bill that would force state lawmakers to repay their salaries from their date of arrest if convicted of a crime.
Why wasn't he expelled last year?
The House voted 90-0 to take the speaker's gavel from Householder's hands a week after his arrest. But then most of those Republicans voted to table (not debate) a motion to expel Householder from office.
Cupp told reporters he wanted to wait until 2021 because of a quirk in the Ohio Constitution. It says a lawmaker can't be expelled a "second time for the same cause."
Basically, Cupp didn't want to remove Householder from the last few months of the 133rd General Assembly (which ended in December 2020) only to be stuck with him for the entire two years of the 134th.
But whenever reporters ask Cupp about expelling Householder these days, he gives the same answer: I'm consulting with the caucus.