Conversation

Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) speaks with a march goer.

Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) joined the rest of the Ohio House of Representatives Thursday in unanimously voting to remove his personal friend and now-former boss Larry Householder (R-Glenford) as House speaker, but he also voted along mostly partisan lines to table opening the floor for debate on expelling the former speaker from the body.

Edwards, who served on Householder’s leadership team as majority whip of the House (Edwards is still majority whip, just under different leadership), also voted Thursday to elect former Ohio Supreme Court justice Rep. Bob Cupp (R-Lima) as the new House speaker, despite many other Republicans not doing so.

Every Democrat in the House voted against Cupp’s speakership. House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) said of the House Republican caucus in a statement: “We don’t trust any of them.”

In a statement released Thursday night, Edwards largely praised Householder’s tenure as speaker, saying that “progress was made on multiple fronts” under his leadership, before explaining why he voted to revoke his speakership.

Edwards chose to not support floor debate on possibly expelling Householder from the House because he believes the former speaker “deserves to have his day in court, untainted by the slights of political expediency and a rush-to-judgement.”

“My family and I have grown to consider Larry to be a friend. We were confident that Householder would help give southeastern Ohio a stronger voice,” Edwards said in the statement.

“In fact, Larry was fond of sharing the story of meeting my grandfather, Joe Edwards, for the first time back in 1996, when Householder stopped by the Movies 10 during his campaign for state representative.”

The majority whip, however, said he no longer felt that Householder could effectively lead the body because of the allegations detailed as part of an ongoing federal investigation into the alleged $60 million racketeering scheme at the center of the former speaker’s arrest and indictment.

A federal grad jury formally indicted Householder and his accomplices Thursday on a count of conspiracy under The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

“In politics, it’s so easy to kick someone when they’re down just to score political points. That’s not who I am or what I believe that my constituents expect of me,” he said. “My commitment to serve Ohio has never wavered; and this test must be viewed as one of the curveballs that life sometimes throws our way.”

Edwards last week said that the arrest of Householder came as “a total shock, a complete surprise.” And as of last Friday he has not been contacted by anybody involved in the ongoing federal investigation into Householders’ and his four accomplices’ alleged scheme to take First Energy money to help pass a widely controversial nuclear bailout law, or House Bill 6.

Apart from releasing a collective statement alongside other members of the House majority leadership team, Edwards was mostly quiet in the days following Householder’s arrest. He said last Friday that he spent much of that week “trying to put pieces back together.”

Edwards also said that the growing movement in state government calling to repeal and replace House Bill 6 “may have some merit as long as it includes the cutting of mandates that will save Ohio ratepayers $2.3B over its life.” Though, he withheld his full support for the movement until he sees the replacement bill.

Gov. Mike DeWine last week called for the repeal and replacement of the legislation after previously declining to do so, saying that he supports the policy outlined in the law, but disapproves of the allegedly corrupt methods through which it was passed.

As of Friday, no formal charges have been brought against any other Ohio public officials and Edwards name wasn’t explicitly mentioned in any documents related to the federal investigation into Householder and his accomplices.

The federal complaint filed last week against Householder and his accomplices, collectively referred to in the document as “The Enterprise,” describes their successful attempts to help elect members who would comprise “Team Householder.” Those on the team were either wittingly or unwittingly instrumental in the enterprise’s alleged scheme to pass House Bill 6.

Federal investigators uncovered a document from enterprise member Jeff Longstreth — Householder’s longtime political strategist — that describes a proposed list of individuals to comprise Householder’s leadership team should he win the speakership.

Those on that list include “Speaker of The House, Speaker Pro Tempore, Majority Floor Leader, Assistant Majority Leader, Majority Whip, and Assistant Majority Whip,” according to the complaint.

“After Householder was elected speaker in 2019 all of the individuals, except for one, became part of Householder’s leadership team. (The exception was a representative who did not support Householder for Speaker).”

According to House voting records, Edwards both supported Householder for speaker and voted to pass House Bill 6.

The complaint also alleged that Longstreth’s list of potential candidates for the leadership team mirrored House members that First Energy intended to support.

State campaign finance records show that First Energy’s PAC gave $5,000 to Edwards’ campaign the day before the 2018 general election when he won re-election, though the energy company also financially supported him in the past with donations that exceed the amount given to him that year.

Householder’s public-facing PAC, Friends of Householder, didn’t fund Edwards’ 2018 campaign, though the speaker funded several other Republican candidates that year, as did First Energy, according to Cleveland.com.

The enterprise ultimately funded 21 candidate’s campaigns in 2018, totaling spending of between $2.5 million and $3 million, according to the complaint.

Householder’s accomplices also created a federal PAC, called Growth and Opportunity PAC, and allegedly funneled First Energy money into it by way of another nonprofit affiliated with the enterprise.

The PAC, which investigators discovered was controlled by Longstreth, was used in the 2018 primaries to conceal the source of media advertisements for candidates Householder wanted elected to aid him in passing the bailout bill.

It’s unclear which candidates directly benefited from the PAC’s spending because all of its disbursements were paid to various political consulting and advertising firms, according to Federal Election Commission documents.

In total, the PAC spent $1 million in First Energy money in 2018. The PAC also spent more than $1 million to benefit “Team Householder” candidates in the 2020 primary, the complaint said.

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