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Is the mastermind behind one of Ohio’s biggest scandals paying too high a price?

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes at Ohio University. tsuddes@gmail.com

Last week, former Republican Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives Larry Householder, now serving a 20-year prison sentence for federal corruption, appealed his conviction and sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals (6th Circuit).

One of Householder’s main arguments is that his sentence is excessive. And while many bystanders will likely disagree, Householder has a point.

What the Cincinnati court will make of Householder’s appeal is anyone’s guess. Prosecutors have one month to respond.

At the center of the case is the expenditure of more than $60 million by or on behalf of Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. aimed at helping Householder become speaker of the House of Representatives and ensuring passage in 2019 of House Bill 6.

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Thomas Suddes

Thomas Suddes

HB 6 would have bailed out, at consumers’ expense, two money-losing nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy, including the Perry plant in Lake County. As a result of the HB 6 affair, FirstEnergy agreed to pay a $230 million fine to the federal government in exchange for a deferred prosecution agreement.

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Although partially repealed, HB 6 has cost Ohio electricity consumers nearly a quarter of a billion dollars, including subsidies to AES, American Electric Power and Duke Energy.

Object: To cover the losses of two coal-fired power plants, one of which is in Indiana, the three utilities have partial ownership. Lawmakers seem to think this is just great, perhaps because one of the coal plants is in Republican House Speaker Jason Stephens’ district of Kitts Hill in Lawrence County.

Some Democrats had their hands on House Bill 6

A factor worth remembering: HB 6 could not have become law without the “yes” votes of some Democrats in the General Assembly. (Also voting “yes” on HB 6, along with most other Republicans in the Senate: Sen. Matt Dolan of Chagrin Falls, who is running for U.S. Senate this year.)

In 2019, among the 19 Senate votes to pass House Bill 6 — 17 of which were needed — three were cast by Democrats. And of the 51 votes in the House of Representatives to pass HB 6 – with 50 votes required – nine were cast by Democrats. As far as we know, none of these lawmakers lost their seats because of HB 6.

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One of the two primary sponsors of HB 6 was then-Rep. Shane Wilkin, of Hillsboro., now a state senator seeking a Republican congressional nomination in southwest Ohio’s 2nd District for the seat of retiring Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup (originally from Cincinnati, now also from Hillsboro).

HB 6’s other major co-sponsor, Republican Rep. Jamie Callender, of Greater Cleveland’s Concord, is now perhaps best known as the General Assembly’s leading advocate for marijuana legalization. And Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed the Wilkin-Callender rescue bill the day lawmakers passed it.

Is twenty years too long a sentence for Larry Householder?

In his appeal, Householder, who is incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution at Elkton in Columbiana County, cites numerous decisions, appeals and sentences in other federal prosecutions of official corruption. And assuming the 6th Circuit agrees to consider the appeal, Householder’s arguments will have merit.

One point Householder raised concerns the length of the 20-year prison sentence he received from U.S. District Judge Timothy Black.

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The householder turns 65 in June; at the end of his sentence he would be 84 years old, and for all practical purposes, parole does not exist in the federal justice system.

It is true that if Donald Trump returns to the White House, there is a chance of presidential clemency, as Householder was one of Trump’s first supporters in Ohio in 2016, while most Ohio Republicans fell in line in then-President’s presidential campaign government. John R. Kasich.

According to a study published in 2021 by the U.S. Office of Justice Statistics, the average sentence served in state prisons in the United States for murder in 2018 was 17.5 years. of all such sentences, longer than that.

You don’t have to like Larry Householder, and many people don’t, but with life expectancy what it is, a 20-year prison sentence for someone 64 years old could amount to a life sentence.

Looking at the HB 6 affair in general, as scandalous as it is, Householder’s punishment seems excessive. And will his punishment deter others from the same kind of Statehouse misconduct?

Given the legislature’s continued antics, that seems questionable.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes at Ohio University. tsuddes@gmail.com

This article originally appeared in The Columbus Dispatch: Why Larry Householder may be paying too high a price for House Bill 6

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