COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican state representatives in Ohio planned to meet Tuesday for the first time since their leader was arrested in connection with a $60 million federal bribery probe to discuss whether to remove disgraced House Speaker Larry Householder and what the investigation’s fallout might mean for their fall legislative campaigns.
The meeting in a downtown hotel is open to all members of the House Republican Caucus, said Majority Floor Leader Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who helped organize the gathering. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a fellow Republican; Jane Timken, chair of the Ohio Republican Party; the clerk of the Ohio House and the lawyer for House Republicans’ campaign committee are also invited, Seitz said.
“The important thing is to follow the appropriate process and in a calm and logical manner,” Seitz said. “We’re trying to do what’s right.”
Seitz added that they’ll take a secret ballot on whether Householder should be removed.
The meeting follows the release of a July 21 federal affidavit identifying Householder and four associates as part of an alleged pay-to-play scheme involving millions of dollars of corporate money secretly funneled to them for personal and political use in exchange for passing legislation to bail out two FirstEnergy nuclear plants.
Householder has not returned messages seeking comment and his attorney declined comment Tuesday.
House Republicans plan to discuss whether Householder should be removed, what the mechanics are for his removal, and any legal consequences they may face, said state Rep. Rick Carfagna, one of at least four Republicans interested in succeeding Householder. Members are also concerned about how to finance their campaigns for the November election, since Householder controlled most of the cash.
The calls for Householder’s resignation have crescendoed in recent days, with even fellow Republican Gov. Mike DeWine calling for him to step down, saying it would be impossible for Householder to be an effective legislative leader given the charges against him.
Householder has thus far ignored those calls from colleagues in both parties, pushing Democratic leaders in the House to pen a letter Monday “strongly encouraging” the GOP leadership’s swift action in removing the speaker from his post.
“While we acknowledge the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, it is clear that given the scale of the charges and restrictions put on him at arraignment that Mr. Householder is incapable of fulfilling the duties of Speaker,” the letter read.
According to House rules, a session would need to be convened in order to hold a vote to remove Householder. Currently, it is up to the speaker to call or schedule a session. In the event he or she is absent, Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Jim Butler can call the House in for a session.
The letter signed by Democratic Reps. Emilia Sykes, Kristin Boggs, Paula Hicks-Hudson and Rich Brown called on Butler to do just that, warning that if he doesn’t, they are prepared to request for the governor to call a special session of the House.
However, since Householder has neither been indicted of a crime nor resigned, it is unclear that he is technically “absent.” Seitz said he spoke to Householder on Friday and shared with him the names of House members who have called for his resignation plus those who have declared candidacies to replace him.
“I told him, ‘You’re the master vote counter, you count the noses,’” said Seitz. He said he stuck to “just the facts” in their discussion and didn’t strategize in any way with Householder or discuss the allegations against him.
If at least 50 members of the chamber show up for a non-voting session, that would create a quorum and force a session, according to House rules.
Besides Carfagna, other potential speaker candidates include Reps. Bob Cupp, Tim Ginter and Speaker Pro Tem Butler.
This story has been corrected to show that the affidavit identifying Larry Householder and four associates was released July 21, not Wednesday, July 22.
Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.