COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican state representatives in Ohio agreed Tuesday to remove the disgraced House speaker arrested last week in connection with a $60 million federal bribery probe following a secret vote prompted by Larry Householder‘s refusal to voluntarily give up the seat.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost briefed the gathering ahead of the vote, declining to comment to reporters because his advice was privileged. Jane Timken, chair of the Ohio Republican Party, was scheduled to speaker later on the impact of the bribery allegations on fall campaigns.
Representatives, many masked, rotated in and out of a conference room because of social distancing requirements.
State Rep. Niraj Antani, a Dayton Republican, said he voted with the majority of about 50 representatives gathered behind closed doors at a downtown hotel to make the decision.
“While we still need to vote on the floor officially, this is the first step to restoring integrity to the House,” he said in the statement.
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 discussed whether Householder should be removed, what the mechanics are for his removal, and any legal consequences they may face, said those who attended.
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.
Also Tuesday, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said he plans to present lawmakers with a proposal to provide more transparency by so-called “dark money” groups, which don’t have to disclose their contributors. One such group is alleged to have been the go-between in the bribery investigation.
But DeWine cautioned that such groups are legal, and any proposals would have to be constitutional.
“We have to distinguish between the allegations in regard to Mr. Householder, that part of those allegations that talk about something that’s illegal, vs. the mere existence of independent expenditure groups, which is not illegal,” DeWine said.
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