Ohio speaker's arrest in bribery probe muddies 2020 election

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Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder leaves the federal courthouse after an initial hearing following charges against him and four others alleging a $60 million bribery scheme Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The arrest of Ohio’s House speaker on federal bribery charges has suddenly thrown a shadow over not just his political future, but that of his party, in a state where Republicans have been preparing to solidify control.

Federal prosecutors say Republican Speaker Larry Householder and four others — including a former state GOP chairman — perpetrated a $60 million federal bribery scheme connected to a taxpayer-funded bailout of Ohio’s two nuclear power plants. How many others got caught up in the sweeping probe is yet to be known.

The scope of the accusations threatens to unfurl the GOP’s tight hold on Ohio’s governing body, which is set to draw new congressional maps in 2021 in one of the country’s most gerrymandered states. The chance to control Ohio’s representation in Washington for the next decade has put flipping at least some legislative seats on Democrats’ national radar.

The scandal’s potential political fallout for Republicans was evidenced by the swift rebukes of Householder by politicians and party leaders alike.

Practically before he’d left the federal courthouse Tuesday, a who’s who of top Republican brass was calling for Householder’s resignation. They included Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Attorney General Dave Yost.

An angry GOP Chair Jane Timken went further. Emphasizing that Republicans stand for “accountability and rule of law,” she distanced the organization from Householder and hinted that Democrats who participated in his bipartisan election to the speakership should share culpability for placing him in power.

“When Mr. Householder worked closely with Democrats in the House to achieve the votes necessary to become Speaker, I realized that he does things his own way,” she said. “He will now face his own reckoning.”

While loosening the GOP’s grip on the Ohio Legislature is a big job — Republicans control 61 of 99 House seats and 24 of 33 Senate seats — Householder’s arrest could give a boost to Democrats’ hopes. Before the afternoon was out, Democrats had begun soliciting political donations in support of the GOP’s ouster, saying their candidates could end a “culture of corruption” they blamed on one-party rule.