COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The race in the rural Ohio district of disgraced ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder now includes four write-in candidates attempting to unseat the once-powerful politician ,who has refused to step aside from his reelection bid despite facing charges in a $60 million bribery scheme.
The four challengers — of varied parties and backgrounds — are unified in their attacks on Householder's questionable ethics and his role in passing a nuclear bailout bill at the center of the scandal that now faces renewed scrutiny at the Statehouse. Still, a Householder victory appears likely in District 72, given his strong ties in his native Perry County and an endorsement by the local Republican Party.
He is the only candidate listed on the ballot, having fielded no Democratic challenger. The heavily Republican district also covers Coshocton County and Licking County in east-central Ohio.
The write-in candidates are 20-year-old Kaitlyn Clark, a college student from Coshocton; Republican Jay Conrad, a 29-year-old Marine veteran and college student from New Lexington; Robert Leist, a 51-year-old maintenance coordinator and Libertarian from Coshocton; and Marci McCaulay, a 69-year-old psychologist and Democrat from Thornville. Clark's political party is not listed with the election board.
While each candidate has different policy plans for the district, all of them agreed the district's residents deserve ethical representation in the Ohio House in the wake of Householder's arrest and indictment.
All the candidates have also said they support a repeal of House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout bill at the center of the federal investigation that led to Householder's ouster as house speaker in July. The candidates made their case for the seat during an Oct. 10 debate that Householder was invited to participate in but did not attend.
The two-time lawmaker was charged in July with racketeering charges in the alleged bribery scheme to pass a $1.3 billion bailout of two Ohio nuclear plants. Householder was one of the driving forces behind the nuclear plants’ financial rescue, which added a new fee to every electricity bill in the state and directed over $150 million a year through 2026 to the plants near Cleveland and Toledo.
Hours after FBI agents raided Householder’s farm, U.S. Attorney David DeVillers described the ploy as likely the largest bribery and money-laundering scheme that had “ever been perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio.”
Also charged were Householder's adviser Jeffrey Longstreth, longtime Statehouse lobbyist Neil Clark, former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matthew Borges and Juan Cespedes, co-founder of The Oxley Group, a Columbus-based consulting firm. All five men have pleaded not guilty.
Less than two weeks after his arrest, the House voted to remove Householder as speaker, replacing him with Republican Rep. Bob Cupp, a man that members of the GOP party have deemed the antithesis to Householder.
However, Householder has ignored calls to give up his House seat even as the federal charges loom above his reelection campaign along with the several other probes that have surfaced since, including ones brought on by the state Attorney General's office and election chief.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose has called for Householder to step down from office. He also noted how this situation is a good example of why political parties should ensure they have candidates running in every race.
Householder's Republican colleagues in the House considered removing him from the chamber immediately but, if they did so before Nov. 3, voters would be able to reelect him, and a lawmaker cannot be expelled twice. The only option now for both parties is to wait until the legislative session begins in January to consider expelling or impeaching Householder.
If reelected, Householder would be automatically removed from office if he is convicted of conspiracy to commit racketeering, as Ohio law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony or bribery charges from holding public office.
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.