By Ben Peters
Athens NEWS Associate Editor
Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville), who was elected majority whip of the Ohio House of Representatives in 2019 under disgraced former speaker Rep. Larry Householder (R-Glenford), said last Wednesday he did not run for re-election to the position, one of the most powerful in the chamber, in the upcoming General Assembly.
Edwards, a popular incumbent who recently won re-election to the House in a landslide, initially did not provide any further explanation as to why he didn’t run following multiple requests for comment made across several days. He replied Monday afternoon, saying he felt the leadership job limited him in his legislative duties — despite it coming with a pay raise and statewide clout in politics.
“This position disqualified me from sponsoring legislation and the majority of my time was spent on member management and helping our members pass their bills,” he said in a statement. “Although I had many of my fellow colleagues approach me about running for a leadership position, I feel being able to sponsor legislation in addressing these and other issues head on for the people of the 94th District is much more important.”
Edwards hasn’t been a primary sponsor of any legislation since February 2019, shortly after he was elected majority whip.
Elections for House leadership are often just a formality since the speaker effectively selects behind closed doors who they wish to lead the caucus beside them. Floor votes on leadership nearly always end in unanimous approval among both parties.
The House voted last Wednesday to re-elect Rep. Bob Cupp (R-Lima) as speaker and selected an almost entirely new Republican leadership team. The only holdover is Majority Floor Leader Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township), who reportedly considered challenging Cupp for the speakership but never followed through.
Cupp’s office declined to comment directly on Edwards no longer being part of House leadership.
“I am honored to have been re-elected by my colleagues to continue leading the Ohio House,” Cupp said in a statement announcing his new leadership team. “I will work every day with our unified caucus to advance conservative policies to benefit all Ohioans. We have great challenges but I know the talented members of our caucus will work together to solve them.”
In August, Cupp requested that Edwards, along with the rest of the former Republican Majority House Leadership team, step down from their positions shortly after he was elected as the new speaker following the removal of Householder in an effort to rid the leadership of holdovers.
Edwards, who’s in the past indicated his ambitions to hold higher leadership positions in the chamber, refused the speaker’s request, saying he saw no reason to step down.
Cupp additionally removed Edwards and the rest of the former leadership team at the time from the authoritative Rules and Reference Committee, which sets the House’s agenda. Householder appointed Edwards to that committee in 2019. Edwards voted to elect Cupp as speaker after voting to oust his personal friend and now-former boss Householder from the position weeks after the FBI disclosed findings of an ongoing probe into Householder’s central involvement in what’s been described as a $60 million racketeering scheme to pass nuclear bailout legislation, or House Bill 6, and knock down the ballot initiative efforts that aimed to squash the law.
While Edwards has claimed numerous times he had no idea of Householder’s involvement in the alleged criminal enterprise, one of the lobbyists indicted in connection to the probe, Neil Clark, identified him as an attendee of a dinner — outlined in an FBI affidavit — where they discussed in a rather vulgar manner their efforts to defeat the House Bill 6 ballot initiative campaign.
The affidavit references an Ohio House member identified only as “Representative 8,” who the FBI said is not known to be a member of the alleged criminal enterprise. Edwards previously said that he doesn’t recall attending the meeting, but he never explicitly denied that it occurred.
“I just don’t have it on my calendar. I went to a lot of dinners. I went to a lot of different things, so, you know, that’s not to say it didn’t happen, that’s not to say that it did,” he said at the time.
Edwards wouldn’t say whether he believed he was “Representative 8,” as outlined within the affidavit.
One of the other men at that dinner who was said to be Clark’s client, known to him as Brian Bennett, claimed to be a Cincinnati hotel developer who wanted help ensuring that a sports-betting bill, which Edwards co-sponsored, would include provisions to allow for a betting window within their hotel, according to Cleveland.com. Sports gambling was reportedly not discussed at the dinner.
Another man present at the meeting was known to Clark only as “Vinnie,” and was said to be from Bennett’s company’s Rhode Island office.
It later became understood that the FBI used agents who posed as business developers in a string of public corruption investigations after Cincinnati City Councilmember Jeff Pastor was arrested earlier in November on corruption charges after allegedly taking bribes from men who claimed to be developers.
Pastor’s arrest is not thought to be connected to that of Householder, Clark and their other accomplices — two of whom, Juan Cespedes and Jeff Longstreth, have pleaded guilty to the racketeering charges levied against them by the FBI.
Clark, who still pleads not guilty to the charges, believed the men at the dinner were with the FBI. He said he met with them on a few occasions in both Cincinnati and Nashville.
Edwards previously said that he vaguely recollected at some point in recent years interacting with people who match the description of the hotel developers Clark described, suggesting he came into contact with the FBI agents who investigated Householder’s alleged enterprise. Though he said that he met with numerous people in connection to the sports-betting bill.
“It seems like I have an embelence (sic) of remembering meeting guys from Nashville who had boutique hotels that wanted to talk sports gaming,” Edwards said in his interview with The NEWS.
Edwards recalled thinking it was unusual that men who developed boutique hotels were interested in sports gambling.