The Ohio House voted unanimously to remove Larry Householder as Ohio House Speaker, just minutes after a federal grand jury indicted Householder and four others in a $60 million racketeering conspiracy connected to last year's nuclear bailout bill.
With Householder absent, speaker pro tempore Jim Butler (R-Oakwood) called the Ohio House into session. Proceedings were brief: The motion to remove Householder as Speaker passed 90-0, and the House then went into recess.
Householder is the first Ohio House Speaker ever to be removed by the chamber, according to the Ohio History Connection.
"As a practical reality, the overwhelming majority of the members believe that Speaker Householder can no longer effectively function in that role," says state Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati).
However, the Ohio House did not vote on whether to expel Householder from the legislature, or to choose his replacement. Seitz says a vote for a new Speaker won't happen until the GOP caucus can ensure 50 votes for a single candidate.
Quickly after the removal vote, Householder's nameplate was stripped from the Speaker dais in the House chambers.
Householder is accused of funneling payments from a dark money group for personal gain and to further his political career, in exchange for securing the passage of HB6, a $1.1 billion energy overhaul.
The federal grand jury indicted Houlseholder on Thursday with conspiracy to commit racketeering, punishable of up to 20 years in prison. Federal investigators had charged Householder last week by criminal complaint.
Former Ohio GOP chair Matt Borges, 48; longtime Householder adviser Jeffrey Longstreth, 44; and lobbyists Neil Clark, 67, and Juan Cespedes, 40, were also indicted. Federal prosecutors are also seeking charges against Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) dark money group involved in the conspiracy.
"It is alleged that the enterprise conspired to violate the racketeering statute through honest services wire fraud, receipt of millions of dollars in bribes and money laundering," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a press release.
According to federal investigators, Householder's enterprise used Generation Now to spend money on 21 state candidates throughout the 2018 elections, including more than $1 million in the fall to air negative ads against opponents. The conspiracy's chosen candidates, most of whom won their races, then all voted to support Householder's bid for House Speaker in 2019.
As Speaker, Householder secured the passage of HB6, which intended to save two failing two nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions. When opponents of the bailout then attempted to reverse the law through a referendum, the enterprise allegedly spent millions of dollars - paid through Generation Now but likely originating from FirstEnergy Solutions - buying advertisements, mailing flyers and bribing ballot collectors in order to stop the effort.
Prosecutors say the conspiracy was built to conceal the origins of the money.
Householder also personally received over $400,000 through Generation Now, used to settle a personal lawsuit, pay off credit card debt and pay for a house in Florida.
"Dark money is a breeding ground for corruption," said David DeVillers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, in a statement. "This investigation continues."
Read the indictment below.
The decision to oust Householder was finalized by House Republicans at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday.
Householder has declined calls from both sides of the aisle to resign from the legislature, and is currently running unopposed for re-election this fall.
It would take a two-thirds supermajority of the Ohio House to expel Householder from the legislature. But because he can't be expelled for the same reason twice, lawmakers may still choose to do so if Householder wins re-election.
The fight for his replacement is already underway, however. Two candidates, Butler and state Rep. Bob Cupp (R-Lima), remain in the race. Butler is term-limited, while Cupp is running unopposed for his fourth term in the House.
It's unclear which candidate if any House Democrats, many of whom supported Householder's bid, will back this time.
In a statement following the vote, Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) said Householder's removal "is the first step toward restoring public trust, which for the second time in three years has been eroded by Republican leadership that sees itself as above the law." Sykes said she hopes the GOP cacusus moves quickly to choose a new leader.
In 2018, former House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger resigned amid an FBI investigation into his dealings with payday lending lobbyists. Picking Rosenberger's successor took two months, during which the House was unable to take up any legislation. No charges have yet been filed in that case.
Before Thursday's removal vote, House lawmakers also introduced a bill that would add extortion and other criminal offenses to a list of offenses that could result in an official losing their public retirement benefits.
There's some questions about legality. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost contends that the Speakership cannot actually be recalled by the House, and must be revoked through a law passed by both chambers and signed by the governor. Yost also says that only Gov. Mike DeWine and the Speaker have the power to call the House into session in the first place.
This article will be updated with more information as the story develops.