COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Larry Householder, a once-powerful former speaker of the Ohio House, is eyeing a return to the Statehouse.
The 56-year-old Republican left Columbus a decade ago while he and several top advisers were under federal investigation for alleged money laundering and irregular campaign practices. The government later closed the case without filing charges.
With that now in his past, Householder is considering a run next year for the House seat that includes his Perry County home. He told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that the bid is still in “the exploratory phase,” but he plans to make a final decision by the Dec. 16 deadline.
“Honestly, I just have some unfinished business involving the district, and that’s what I’m interested in,” Householder said. “And it’s just something I love. It’s in my blood.”
Top Republicans around the capital who have spoken with Householder are divided over his return. Supporters say Householder’s policy and political gifts would benefit the GOP caucus. Detractors recall an era of heavy-handed tactics by Householder aides that many don’t relish repeating.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who plans a return to the House next session, said the House accomplished a lot during Householder’s speakership from 2000 to 2004 and the cloud under which he departed has lifted.
“I’m sure there are those who think this is a horrible idea, but I would remind everybody that Larry Householder was scrutinized by every federal and state tax, regulatory and ethics agency known to man and was never charged or convicted of a damn thing,” Seitz said. “So I think he has gone through the purifying fire and been found to be blameless.”
Householder would join a group of seasoned Republican lawmakers making return runs for the House next year, including Seitz, Senate President Keith Faber and Sens. Jim Hughes of Columbus and Tom Patton of Cleveland.
That influx of seasoned Householder-era politicians poses a potential political challenge for 34-year-old Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, who joined the House in 2011 and took the chamber’s helm just this year.
Householder said he’s met with Rosenberger and told him he doesn’t want to be speaker, but instead cares about solving policy problems – particularly water and economic development challenges still facing his district and Ohio.
Still, some are skeptical that Householder isn’t aiming higher. Detractors are quietly working to thwart his return to the 72nd District as the seat’s vacated by Rep. Bill Hayes.
Lobbyist Neil Clark, a one-time Householder confidante and informal adviser, still bristles at what he describes as Householder’s public dismissiveness of him toward the end of his tenure.
“There’s a whole host of bodies he’s left behind and to me, it’s all about one’s ability to maintain integrity while they’re here,” Clark said. “Many people want to see a continuation of the honorable approach we’ve seen under (former Speaker) Bill Batchelder and Cliff Rosenberger. I don’t think anybody wants to go back to an old way of heavy-handedness.”
Householder and key advisers faced numerous allegations toward the end of his Statehouse tenure.
An anonymous, nine-page memo leaked to the FBI, IRS and then-Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell in 2004 accused the House Republican Campaign Committee that Householder oversaw of overpaying vendors out of its $1 million budget, then making secret payments back to Householder and his advisers. Householder said at the time the memo contained “half-truths and outright lies.”
Blackwell referred the allegations to the Justice Department, which declined to prosecute after a two-year investigation.