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VALLEY POLITICS | 'ElectricGate' latest in Ohio's history of scandals

This week's alleged electrically charged heist of $60 million by Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and his cohorts is a record-breaker. It might go down as the biggest Ohio scandal, at least in modern times. 
Bill Doc Binning

This week's alleged electrically charged heist of $60 million by Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and his cohorts is a record-breaker. It might go down as the biggest Ohio scandal, at least in modern times.  

Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. allegedly coughed up $60 million to the politicians for a law that would bail out their nuclear facilities. House Bill 6 was passed, and then they fought off (bought off?) a referendum challenge. 

Ohio energy consumers will be paying a surcharge to subsidize this scam for years to come, one way or another.

The question for pols in Ohio is: Will this break the grip of the Republicans on the state? After all, many supported the bill. 

History may have some clues.

There is arguably only one scandal involving Republicans that had significant electoral consequences — the so-called Crofters Scandal in 1970. John D. Herbert, the state treasurer who was running for attorney general, was involved in a loan from the state treasury.  

A Columbus money broker, Crofters Inc., arranged millions of dollars of loans for private concerns from the Ohio Treasury that exceeded limits allowed by Ohio law and did not meet the standards of limited risk. Crofters agents had donated money to Herbert’s campaign and to the rest of the Republican ticket, most of whom lost while Democrat John Gilligan was elected governor. The Democrats also took control of the apportionment board, so they could take control of the gerrymandering of state legislative seats. 

They controlled the lower house for decades until the election of Gov. George Voinovich in November 2004. Then, the GOP took over the gerrymandering of the state legislature.

And they have controlled the state legislature with a few exceptions since.

Another major Republican scandal was 2005’s “Coingate.” Republican donor Tom Noe was eventually found guilty of pilfering money from the deal he had with the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, which was investing in his coins.  By the time the hijinks were discovered by the Toledo Blade, only $13 million of the original $50 million investment could be accounted for. 

In the aftermath, Gov. Bob Taft was hit with some ethics violations — he failed to report golf outings and gifts from Noe — and pleaded no contest to four misdemeanor violations of state ethics laws. Noe got 18 years in prison.

Coingate contributed to the Democrats winning in 2006 and the election of  Gov. Ted Strickland. He might have won anyway.  And victory was short-lived as the Democrats were defeated in 2010 by Gov. Jon Kasich with a statewide GOP sweep. 

So what will happen with “ElectricGate?” Will the GOP take a hit? While statewide offices are not up, will it have some impact on President Donald Trump’s campaign in Ohio? Although he appears to have no connection to the scandal, this might sour the Ohio Republican brand and further divide the party. 

Keep in mind that Kasich is going to speak at the Democratic National Convention in August.

Matt Borges, a key figure in ElectricGate — and maybe THE key figure — was favored by Kasich to be state chairperson of the GOP, which he was until he was tossed out after Trump’s victory. Borges is the one who is accused of offering money for inside information on the referendum campaign to reverse House Bill 6 to an FBI informant. 

The House campaign committee is under Householder’s thumb and one of his underlings, Jeff Longstreth, who is also charged, is head of the House Republican Campaign Committee, which recruits candidates, raises the money and allocates the spending in the 2020 general election for the House races.

This case will bring chaos to this committee and will cost some seats. The Democrats are already raising money to oust the “culture of corruption.” It will cost even more seats if Householder does not resign. Then the Democrats and the media can ask the Republican candidates if they support Householder or not?  Expect him to stay until the bitter end. 

Will the biggest scandal in Ohio cost the Republicans state legislative seats? Yes, but probably not the majority since they have so many seats, and they drew the district lines.  

They have 61 out of 99 seats. If I were to guess, 10 seats might be lost. That does change things, though: 51 out of 99 is a big difference from 61 out of 99.

The state GOP ticket is not up for two years. By then, ElectricGate may be in the rearview mirror.

But it also might remain on our electric bill.