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From Speaker To Scandal To Speaker Again: Larry Householder Returns

Ohio House
Larry Householder has returned to the position of Ohio House Speaker, 15 years after he first left.

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was just elected this week, but he isn't new to the position. His first stint ended 15 years ago amid a finance scandal and FBI investigation.

Karen Kasler of the Statehouse News Bureau says Householder's first reign, which lasted from 2001-2004, started with a bit of a scandal as well. Householder originally struck a deal with state Rep. Bill Harris, each agreeing to serve for one year after Speaker Joanne Davidson left.

"After agreeing to this deal, Householder continued to work on support, and then he called off the deal," Kasler says. "He ended up becoming Speaker in 2001."

Householder served two terms, and as he was leaving in March of 2004, an anonymous memo surfaced accusing Householder and two aides of bribery and kickback schemes involving campaign vendors for the Republican caucus. The memo was turned over to the FBI, and two years later, the Justice Department announced it would not prosecute the case.

In the meantime, another memo surfaced.

"That showed a plan to essentially destroy [then-Secretary of State Ken] Blackwell and boost Householder's campaign for State Auditor," Kasler says. 

Householder instead became the Perry County Auditor, where a few smaller scandals followed, concerning unearned overtime and unearned pay for county workers.

"But overall, there have never been any prosecutions or investigations beyond this that have resulted in charges," she says. "So these things have been out there, but Householder has said that he hasn't done anything wrong."

In the time between his two reigns as Speaker, Kasler says Householder worked his way back to the House.

"It was pretty clear from day one, that he really wanted to be Speaker again," she says. "And certainly, he spent a lot of time, not just working within the Republican caucus, but really working with Democrats."

This time around, his main obstacle was Ryan Smith, who was elected Speaker in June after the resignation of Cliff Rosenberger - who was the subject of his own FBI investigation. After months of party in-fighting, Householder won just as many votes from Democrats as Republicans.

As part of the bargain, he reportedly agreed to pursue a pro-labor agenda and give the minority party more of a say in the legislative process. Kasler says it's critical to note that Householder did not get the majority of the Republican caucus to vote for him, and that his bipartisan path to the job may offer some clues into his future as Speaker.

"The strength of his ability to deal across the aisle not just with Republicans but also with Democrats, is one of the things that people really bring up," Kasler says.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.