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State House removes speaker

GOP selects ex-justice to take over

AP A board reads “yes” votes as members of the Ohio House of Representatives vote to remove Rep. Larry Householder as Speaker of the House on Thursday at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. The Ohio House ousted its Republican speaker as the chamber’s top leader in a historic, unanimous and bipartisan vote after he was charged in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme.

COLUMBUS — Republican lawmakers on Thursday chose former state Supreme Court justice and current Rep. Bob Cupp to lead the Ohio House, replacing the speaker ousted hours earlier amid a scandal.

House members voted in favor of the veteran lawmaker from Lima on Thursday afternoon after a private Republican caucus. It followed a historic, unanimous House vote earlier in the day to remove Rep. Larry Householder as speaker because he was indicted in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme.

Cupp was elevated in a more divided vote and then immediately was sworn in by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French. He promised to lead fairly and humbly.

“It is imperative to restore the public’s trust in our elected officials,” Cupp said. “The duty of the legislative branch of government is to serve to enact laws in the best interest of the people of Ohio.”

His colleagues believe the soft-spoken Cupp will bring the chamber what Householder could not: unity. In a statement, GOP Gov. Mike DeWine praised Cupp as “a man of integrity who will serve Ohio well” and said he looked forward to working with the new speaker.

Householder’s No. 2, Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Jim Butler, of Oakwood, also was a potential candidate for the role. Three more lawmakers — Reps. Rick Carfagna, Tim Ginter and Craig Riedel — withdrew from contention and supported Cupp.

Householder 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 bail out two Ohio nuclear plants. 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 per year through 2026 to the plants in lake County and near Toledo.

Householder and his attorney have ignored or declined requests for comment.

He didn’t attend the vote on removal from his leadership post but retains his Legislative seat for now. Lawmakers rejected a proposal to consider expelling him from the House.

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.

Most — but not all — House members were wearing masks as they gathered for that session amid the coronavirus pandemic. They sat socially distanced for the morning vote, but many shook hands and fraternized as colleagues reunited after weeks of summer break.

Householder, of Glenford, is the first Ohio House speaker ever removed by the chamber, according to the Ohio History Connection.

Householder, his longtime 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 said.

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