COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Members of the Ohio House expelled a defiant Larry Householder, the indicted Republican ex-speaker, in a bipartisan vote Wednesday, invoking their powers to remove a member for the first time in 150 years.
The GOP-controlled House voted 75-21 to remove Householder, of Perry County, approving a resolution that stated he was not suited for office because of the indictment.
"I have not nor have I ever taken a bribe or solicited or been solicited for taking a bribe," said Householder, as he reiterated his innocence on the House floor before he was expelled.
The full House took to a vote after Republican lawmakers forced the measure to the floor instead of waiting for the expulsion resolution to work through the committee process.
Reps. Brian Stewart and Mark Fraizer, both Republicans representing districts that border Householder's, encouraged their colleagues to "do the right thing" and remove Householder from his seat.
"This has been a distraction. This has been a stain on the institution and it is time for us to come together as one body," Fraizer said, adding that "this institution is greater than any one man."
Householder and four associates were arrested in July in an investigation connected to legislation containing a ratepayer-funded bailout of two Ohio nuclear power plants. The $1 billion rescue would have added a new fee to every electricity bill in the state and directed over $150 million a year through 2026 to the plants near Cleveland and Toledo.
Federal prosecutors allege Householder and his allies took FirstEnergy money in exchange for orchestrating a scheme to elect Householder speaker, put his allies into House seats, then pass the bailout bill and thwart a subsequent ballot effort to repeal it.
If he is convicted of the federal charges against him, he could face up to 20 years in prison.
The historic Wednesday vote was met with colorful reaction from both Democrats and Republicans in Ohio.
"Justice, decency and common sense gave a standing ovation to today's vote to expel Mr. Householder from the People's House," Republican Attorney General Dave Yost tweeted shortly after the vote.
State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who has been urging lawmakers to expel Householder for over a year, said the disgraced lawmaker gave the chamber "no choice but to act."
"Make no mistake, there is no joy in seeing a former Ohio speaker removed from office in disgrace, but this is our opportunity to stand against corruption and to turn a page on this dark chapter in Ohio history and begin to rebuild the People's trust in a government that's supposed to work for them," Sykes said in a statement.
A day before his colleagues voted him out, Householder appeared in front of a committee where he delivered an hours-long testimony on why removing him from office would be the wrong thing to do.
"Just think of the precedent this will set: Allegations are enough to remove anyone from office," Householder testified Tuesday. "That's absurd."
Two of Householder's co-defendants and an involved nonprofit have pleaded guilty in the case. FirstEnergy, the energy company at the heart of the latest scandal, has acknowledged in court filings making the bulk of the payments in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme.
The last time the Ohio House expelled a sitting lawmaker was in 1857 when John P. Slough was removed for punching a fellow legislator.
On Tuesday, Householder went on to compare the bipartisan efforts to remove him to the attempts by Congressman Adam Schiff and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to impeach former President Donald Trump earlier this year. "This is clearly politically motivated and I think everyone in this room knows that," he said.
In 2004, Householder left the House the first time due to term limits 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.
After a nasty battle, Householder was again elected speaker in 2019.
Farnoush Amiri is a corps members for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.