The Ohio House came back to work Tuesday, and so did state Rep. Larry Householder (R-Glenford). It was his first time at the Statehouse since being indicted and ousted as Speaker over an alleged bribery scheme involving the nuclear bailout law he championed.
Householder spoke to reporters in the back of the House chamber as he waited for session to get started.
"I'm not going to cause any problems here. I mean, I'm just coming here to to participate and vote for the people of my district," Householder said.
Householder was arrested and indicted on July 21 along with four other men., including the former head of the Ohio GOP. Federal prosecutors charge Householder with leading a $60 million bribery and racketeering conspiracy that funneled money from an energy company, widely known to be FirstEnergy, through dark money groups in order to benefit Householder personally and politically.
In exchange for helping Householder elect his chosen slate of candidates and secure the position of House Speaker, the group then worked to pass an energy bill that benefited two nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy's former subsidiary, and then defended the law against a referendum attempt.
Householder was stripped of his role as House Speaker by a unanimous vote, but remains a member of the legislature.
Householder claims he's innocent of the charges, and argues that HB6 shouldn't be repealed.
“Good legislation is good legislation, and it was the right thing to do for the people of Ohio," Householder said. "There were obviously people who were looking for business advantages and other things to close down those power plants, just like there always is."
Gov. Mike DeWine and legislative leaders have called HB6 "tainted" and urged lawmakers to repeal and replace it. The Ohio House this week launched a committee to begin the process, but Republicans and Democrats disagree on how to approach the matter.
Householder and other bailout backers argue that the legislation saved the state's two nuclear power plants, along with 4,000 jobs, and claim it will save electric ratepayers $2.3 billion.
They also claim its opponents were financed by natural gas interests and the Chinese government, which was never proven. Opponents of the law included environmentalists and research groups. However, the source of the funding for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, the group that tried to put the law before voters last fall, is unclear. So was the funding for Ohioans For Energy Security, the pro-bailout group that fought that attempt.
The federal indictment says the nonprofit group Generation Now illegally pumped millions of dollars into the effort to pass the law and to put it on the ballot.
Householder says he felt the decision to strip him of his speakership was wrong.
"Things got pretty wild there for a while. I understand that," Householder says. "And those things happen. I mean, that's part of politics. When you get into the arenas, sometimes those things occur."
Householder compared his situation to the investigations into President Donald Trump.
“If you look at what's going on at the national level with the president and everyone else, it just seems that's the way things are today. So I wouldn't say it's embarrassing the final stretch of the imagination," Householder said. "I feel good about what I've done and what I've done to protect the people, the state of Ohio and the legislation that we move forward. And I feel proud about all those things.”
Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) said she wasn’t surprised to see Householder return to his seat, since Republicans had rejected a proposal from Democrats to expel him.
"The Republican members decided they did not want to do that, so why wouldn't he show up? Nothing really shocks me these days. But that is obviously an issue that the Republicans want to deal with in their own way,” Strong Sykes said.
Newly elected Speaker Bob Cupp called Householder’s return to the Statehouse “offensive” to members of the chamber and “brought disrepute upon the House.” Cupp called on Householder to resign his seat and leave the Ohio General Assembly.
Cupp also hinted that Republicans may expel Householder if he is re-elected in November. Householder has no opposition named on the ballot, but four candidates are running against him as official write-ins.