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Jay Edwards at Press Conference

Jay Edwards at a March 2017 Press Conference. Photo courtesy of The Ohio House of Representatives.

By Ben Peters and Cole Behrens

Athens NEWS and Athens Messenger Associate Editors

Following a week of silence on his vote not to expel former Ohio House of Representatives Speaker Larry Householder from the chamber, state Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) issued a statement arguing that his vote had little impact on his constituents.

In the statement, issued last Wednesday, Edwards — who was appointed majority whip in Householder’s leadership team in the previous General Assembly — claimed that the former speaker was ousted on improper grounds and should have been impeached instead.

Edwards’ statement arrived a day after reporters from The Athens NEWS and The Athens Messenger traveled to Columbus to seek comment on the vote after Edwards failed to respond to numerous phone calls, text messages and emails throughout the previous week. He declined to comment in person.

Householder’s removal on June 16 for disorderly conduct came nearly a year after his arrest by the FBI, which alleges he was at the center of a complex $60 million bribery scheme to engineer his 2016 return to the Ohio House of Representatives, his election as speaker in January 2019, and ultimately to pass legislation in July 2019 bailing out two nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy.

“A member may be expelled for ‘disorderly conduct,’ which is defined in state law and not applicable in this instance,” Edwards said in the statement. “(Impeachment) is the proper procedure and the one that should have been followed, complete with a trial, the presenting of evidence and the calling of witnesses. In other words, due process.”

Edwards had long maintained his belief that Householder, his friend, deserved due process and an “untainted day in court,” while multiple alleged co-conspirators of the former speaker have pleaded guilty to the charges brought against them by the FBI. Another died by suicide after maintaining his innocence.

The resolution to expel Householder was passed in a 75-21 vote, with 20 Republicans and one Democrat casting to keep him in office.

Republicans in the House were deeply divided over Householder’s ouster. In one instance, a tense confrontation between leadership and a rank-and-file member broke out inside of a Columbus restaurant over the matter weeks prior to the vote.

Edwards also said that he chose to oppose Householder’s removal because the former speaker was re-elected in 2020. Householder ran unopposed in that election and was indicted after the filing deadline for partisan candidates.

In the statement, Edwards responded directly to local media’s course of action in seeking comment from him in-person, implying that questioning his vote had no merit and that reporter resources could have been better used to cover his legislation in the Statehouse.

Local news outlets in Athens regularly covers Edwards’ work in Columbus, with much of the reporting done by combing through press releases and bills — as Edwards is often unresponsive to inquiries.

“Yesterday at the Statehouse I was approached by two young men and a young woman identifying themselves as reporters from my district,” Edwards said in his Facebook post. “Not accustomed to seeing constituents at the Statehouse, let alone local reporters, I was excited to have our local press see firsthand the important issues we’re debating and the work I’m doing to make sure Southeast Ohio’s voice is always heard.”

On the date in question, Edwards was late to the House Finance Committee hearing, sat in the gallery instead of on the member panel, and appeared to be on his cell phone or conversing with other members of the gallery for much of the event.

Following the hearing when he was questioned by reporters in the hallway, he attempted to end the interaction multiple times, including an instance where he stepped into an elevator and immediately exited after reporters followed him in.

Edwards said in the statement that questioning his vote on the expulsion won’t “change one life in the 94th House District.”

While lives may not be at stake, House Bill 6, the legislation at the center of Householder’s arrest, added an additional charge to all Ohioans’ electric bills each month in order to fund the bailout of two nuclear power plants, according to the Legislative Service Commission’s nonpartisan analysis of the law. The legislature passed and Gov. Mike DeWine signed legislation in March of this year that removes the bailout provisions while retaining subsidies for utility-scale solar energy and two coal-fired power plants.

The Nelsonville Republican also claimed in the statement that reporters “missed an opportunity” to cover his involvement in crafting the upcoming state budget, which was already reported on by local media.

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