SUDDES: Will Householder’s sentence deter others? Doubtful



Last week, Larry Householder, Republican former speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, now serving a 20-year sentence on federal corruption charges, appealed his conviction and sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals (6th Circuit). One of Householder’s key arguments is that his sentence is excessive.

At the center of the case is $60 million-plus spent by or on behalf of Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., aimed at helping elect Householder as House speaker and seeking to assure passage in 2019 of House Bill 6.

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

Even though partially repealed, HB 6 has cost Ohio electricity consumers almost a quarter-billion-dollars, and counting, in subsidies to AES, American Electric Power and Duke Energy. Object: To cover the losses of two coal-fueled power plants, one in Indiana, the three utilities partly own. The legislature seems to think that’s just swell, maybe because one of the coal-fueled plants is in the district of Republican House Speaker Jason Stephens, of Lawrence County’s Kitts Hill.

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

In 2019, among the 19 state Senate votes to pass House Bill 6 – with 17 required – were three cast by Democrats. And of 51 House votes to pass HB 6 – with 50 votes required – nine were cast by Democrats. So far as is known, none of those legislators lost his or her seat due to HB 6.

One of HB 6′s two prime sponsors 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 of Cincinnati, now also of Hillsboro).

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

Householder, imprisoned in the Federal Correctional Institution in Columbiana County’s Elkton, cites numerous decisions, appeals, and sentences in other federal prosecutions of official corruption. One Householder point concerns the length of the 20-year sentence he received from U.S. District Judge Timothy Black.

Householder will turn age 65 in June; he’d be age 84 at the end of his sentence, and, practically speaking, there’s no parole in the federal justice system.

True, if Donald Trump returns to the White House, there’s the chance of presidential clemency, given that Householder was one of Trump’s earliest Ohio supporters in 2016, while most Ohio Republicans marched in lockstep in the presidential campaign of then-Gov. John R. Kasich.

According to a study published in 2021 by the U.S. Office of Justice Statistics, the median sentence served in state prisons in the United States for murder in 2018 was 17.5 years.

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

Looking at the HB 6 affair overall, outrageous though it is, Householder’s sentence does seem excessive. And will it deter others? Given the legislature’s continuing antics, that seems doubtful.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at

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