Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) refused the newly elected Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives Bob Cupp’s (R-Lima) request that he step down as House majority whip, one of the most powerful positions in the chamber.
“While I respect the office of Speaker and Speaker Cupp as a person, I see no reason for me to step down from my position as Majority Whip of which I was elected to by my colleagues unanimously,” Edwards said in a statement.
Edwards — who was elected to that position under the leadership of the disgraced former speaker and his personal friend Rep. Larry Householder (R-Glenford) — was additionally removed by Cupp from the authoritative Rules and Reference Committee, which sets the House’s agenda. Householder appointed Edwards to that committee in 2019.
The speaker also removed from the Rules and Reference Committee Majority Floor Leader Rep. Bill Seitz, Assistant Majority Floor Leader Rep. Anthony Devitis and Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Jim Butler.
“It is each speaker’s prerogative to make appointments to committees as they see fit ... My purpose of going to Columbus, to fight for Southeast Ohio and give us a voice has been, and always will be much more important than committee assignments and titles,” Edwards said.
Cupp reportedly asked all members of the Republican House majority leadership team to step down from their positions, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. The only member to do so was Assistant Majority Whip Rep. Laura Lanese (R-Grove City).
Both Cupp and Lanese did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Cupp previously said the members’ resignation from their positions would “clearly demonstrate our resolve to start anew,” as the caucus struggles to earn back confidence following the arrest and indictment of Householder, who still holds office despite being ousted as speaker.
Edwards recently joined the rest of the House in unanimously voting to remove Householder as speaker, but he also voted along mostly partisan lines to table opening the floor for debate on expelling the former speaker from the body. Edwards supported Cupp’s speakership.
The majority whip said at the time he no longer felt that Householder could effectively lead the body because of the allegations detailed as part of an ongoing federal investigation into the alleged $60 million racketeering scheme at the center of the former speaker’s arrest and indictment.
The arrest of Householder came as “a total shock, a complete surprise” to Edwards. In early August, he said he had not been contacted by anybody involved in the ongoing federal investigation into Householders’ and his four accomplices’ alleged scheme to take First Energy money to help pass a widely controversial nuclear bailout law, or House Bill 6. Although Edwards said he would comply with investigators if they summon him.
No formal charges have been brought against any other Ohio public officials, and Edwards name wasn’t explicitly mentioned in any documents related to the investigation into Householder and his accomplices.
The federal complaint filed in July against Householder and his accomplices, collectively referred to in the document as “The Enterprise,” describes their successful attempts to help elect members who would comprise “Team Householder.” Those on the team were either wittingly or unwittingly instrumental in the enterprise’s alleged scheme to pass House Bill 6.
Federal investigators uncovered a document from enterprise member Jeff Longstreth — Householder’s longtime political strategist — that describes a proposed list of individuals to comprise Householder’s leadership team should he win the speakership.
Those on that list include “Speaker of The House, Speaker Pro Tempore, Majority Floor Leader, Assistant Majority Leader, Majority Whip, and Assistant Majority Whip,” according to the complaint.
“After Householder was elected speaker in 2019 all of the individuals, except for one, became part of Householder’s leadership team. (The exception was a representative who did not support Householder for Speaker),” the complaint reads.
According to House voting records, Edwards both supported Householder for speaker and voted to pass House Bill 6.
The complaint also alleged that Longstreth’s list of potential candidates for the leadership team mirrored House members that First Energy intended to support.
State campaign finance records show that First Energy’s PAC gave $5,000 to Edwards’ campaign the day before the 2018 general election when he won re-election, though the energy company also financially supported him in the past with donations that exceed the amount given to him that year.
Householder’s public-facing PAC, Friends of Householder, didn’t fund Edwards’ 2018 campaign, though the speaker funded several other Republican candidates that year, as did First Energy, according to Cleveland.com.
The enterprise ultimately funded 21 candidate’s campaigns in 2018, totaling spending of between $2.5 million and $3 million, according to the complaint.
Householder’s accomplices also created a federal PAC, called Growth and Opportunity PAC, and allegedly funneled First Energy money into it by way of another nonprofit affiliated with the enterprise.
The PAC, which investigators discovered was controlled by Longstreth, was used in the 2018 primaries to conceal the source of media advertisements for candidates Householder wanted elected to aid him in passing the bailout bill.
It’s unclear which candidates directly benefited from the PAC’s spending because most of its disbursements were paid to various political consulting and advertising firms, according to Federal Election Commission documents.
In total, the PAC spent $1 million in First Energy money in 2018. The PAC also spent more than $1 million to benefit “Team Householder” candidates in the 2020 primary, the complaint said.