News that state Rep. Larry Householder, R-Perry County, has been convicted of four alcohol-related offenses in the last 16 years, and that the three earlier charges for some unexplained reason did not appear on his driving record, has sent shockwaves throughout the state and could impact the November election.
Householder, whose 78th District includes part of Athens County, acknowledged late last week in a Cincinnati Enquirer article that he had been arrested and found guilty four times of alcohol-related charges. When he faced his last charge of DUI in 1997, though, the previous charges did not appear on his record with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Householder could not explain why the previous arrests did not appear on his record.
The story is receiving big-city media attention because Householder is considered a shoe-in to become the next House Speaker, the third most powerful position in state government, if he's re-elected.
Though Householder could not be reached for comment for this article, he has stated in articles in several Ohio newspapers that he made mistakes in his life, and that some of them have involved alcohol. He stated that he has learned from his mistakes and stopped drinking after the 1997 drunk-driving arrest. Voters should not look at his driving record when they go to the polls in November, he told reporters, but should instead look at his legislative record and everything he has done for the district.
The story broke in last Friday's Cincinnati Enquirer, which reported on three earlier alcohol-related offenses for which Householder had been convicted. One was a driving under the influence of alcohol charge (1984 in Perry County); the second was for an amended charge of reckless operation (1988 in Athens County); and the third was for being drunk and disorderly outside an Athens bar in 1989.
In 1997, Householder pleaded guilty to DUI and failure to control after driving his car into a ditch in Perry County. That arrest occurred in his first term as state representative, and received regional media attention.
Householder faces a challenge from Athens Democrat Lisa Eliason, who is a prosecutor for the city.
Susan Gwinn, chair of the Athens County Democratic Party, said Monday that she believes the revelations about Householder's past will hurt his chances in the election. The voters will have to decide if they think Householder would be a bad role model for their children, she said, and if they want someone with his history representing them in the Ohio legislature.
"There's sort of been a low roar in the district for some time on, how did this guy get away with this," Gwinn said.
Gwinn said she has received a lot of calls about Householder's record from district residents upset about what they have learned. She added that she was very surprised when she heard the revelations about Householder's past.
"I was really shocked," Gwinn said. "For him to seek the kind of position he is seeking knowing that this kind of cover-up has occurred has been pretty arrogant on his part." Gwinn said she is referring to the matter as a "cover-up" because Householder never disclosed it before, and it's odd to her that it was never mentioned after his 1997 arrest.
Gwinn alleged that when Householder was found guilty of drunk driving in 1984, he appealed the case, arguing that some of the evidence should not have been allowed. The assistant prosecutor who handled the 1984 case in Perry County, she said, was the county prosecutor when Householder was arrested in 1997. Though the country prosecutor did not handle the case, Gwinn alleges that he should have remembered Householder from his 1984 case and appeal.
"I just can't believe that you wouldn't remember such a significant appeal," Gwinn said.
Ellsworth Holden, chair of the Athens County Republican Party, said he does not think Householder's past offenses will matter to voters.
"Those are in the past," Holden said. "Larry has said 'I did it and I'm sorry,' and he's asserted that since then he does not touch alcohol." It is ingrained in our society to forgive people for past mistakes that they're sorry about, and Holden said he thinks voters will not hold these past offenses against Householder.
He argued that Householder has been an excellent representative and will help the area even more if he's reelected and named House Speaker. The people of rural Ohio and especially Southeastern Ohio often complain about not having their voices heard in Columbus, and Householder can change that, Holden said.
"If Larry is elected this November and if he is elected as Speaker of the House, everybody in rural Ohio and certainly we in Southeastern Ohio will know that Ohio will hear the concerns of the rural areas," Holden said. He declined to comment on Gwinn's allegations of Householder's past offenses being covered up.
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