Bob Cupp selected as next Ohio House speaker
The following was published on July 30, 2020, via cleveland.com. It was reprinted with permission from Jane Kahoun, Politics Editor. The article highlights Bob Cupp (Zeta Kappa/Ohio Northern 1974).
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Republican State Rep. Bob Cupp, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice who’s served in the House since 2015, has been selected as the next speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives.
Cupp, of Lima, defeated Dayton-area state Rep. Jim Butler by a single vote in a closed-door GOP caucus meeting, according to a Republican lawmaker. The House then publicly elected Cupp 55-38, with all Democrats, as well as a handful of Republicans voting no. Immediately following the vote, Cupp was sworn into the office by state Supreme Court Justice Judith French.
He will replace Larry Householder, whom legislators unanimously ousted from his leadership position earlier Thursday shortly after Householder was indicted on racketeering charges in what the FBI has described as a $60 million bribery scheme. Householder, a top political aide and three lobbyists, including the former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, were arrested last week. Although he’s lost his leadership role, Householder remains in the House, and an effort by Democrats to expel him on Thursday failed.
Cupp has served in the Ohio House since 2015, meaning he will be term limited and forced to leave the legislature at the end of 2022. He previously served in the Ohio Supreme Court from 2007 through 2013. Before that, he served in the Ohio Senate.
After the vote, Cupp pledged to members he would work to restore public trust in state government. He told reporters one of his first legislative priorities would be to re-examine House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout bill prosecutors said FirstEnergy bribed Householder to pass.
“It’s a challenging time following a serious an unprecedented breach of trust,” Cupp said in a brief address to members. As I stand before you on this podium, I know I am not alone in facing these issues.”
Prosecutors allege Householder and others accepted the $60 million, routed through political organizations that spent it on ads and other campaign expenses, to help elect Householder. In exchange, Householder pushed a bailout bill that will bring more than $1 billion to two plants owned by a former FirstEnergy subsidiary.
FirstEnergy has not been formally named in charging documents, and no one from the company has been accused of wrongdoing.
The speaker of the Ohio House is one of the most powerful jobs in state government. The speaker decides what legislation is debated and voted on and consequently, heavily influences what becomes law. Householder for instance, used the office to visibly push back against Gov. Mike DeWine’s moves to restrict public life to fight the coronavirus, arguing they were heavy-handed.
But asked about DeWine’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Cupp signaled a possible change in approach.
Cupp said DeWine had done his best dealing with the issue, and didn’t want to air out his criticism.
“While there are differences of opinion, the virus is a serious thing affecting not only the people of Ohio, but the United States and people around the world. And so we need to do things that are appropriate. There are different parts of the state, where its impact will be different. And so maybe calibration to those conditions is important,” he said.
Asked whether he might pursue legislation to restrict the use of anonymous “dark money” political spending in Ohio, which Republicans and Democrats have called for in response to Householder’s arrest, Cupp said it’s a possibility.
“We’re going to have to take a careful look at it, but I think yes, there is an interest in delving into that,” he said.
During Thursday’s session, Democratic state Rep. Jeff Crossman, of Parma, moved to expel Householder from the legislature. Doing so under the Ohio Constitution would require a two-thirds vote.
But Republicans killed the resolution, voting to table it before it could be voted on or debated. Four Northeast Ohio lawmakers – state Reps. Dave Greenspan, of Westlake, Gayle Manning, of Lorain County, Scott Oeslager, of Canton and Tom Patton, of Strongsville, broke ranks with their fellow Republicans in voting against tabling the issue.
After the vote, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said Republicans were “shameful” in blocking the measure.
“The Ohio House Republicans just showed the entire state how they really feel about the largest bribery scandal in Ohio history,” Pepper said. “Rather than joining Democrats to expel the former Speaker, they not only fought to keep him in office, but they cut off even having a debate about it.”
Speaking with reporters, Cupp held open the possibility the House may move to expel Householder in the future, since under the state Constitution, a lawmaker can’t be removed from office twice for the same conduct. Were Householder to be convicted, he would be automatically expelled.
“As you know, he is unopposed for election in November. So I think maybe we don’t want to use all our options at one time,” he said.
Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, the top Democrat in the House, issued a terse, one-sentence statement about Cupp’s election: “We don’t trust any of them.”
In contrast to the hyper-ambitious, colorful and sometimes combative Householder, Cupp is soft-spoken and not considered to be overly political, by politicians’ standards.
“Unification, that’s the big thing. He’s a great listener,” said state Rep. Gary Scherer, a Pickaway County Republican who was an early backer of Cupp’s speaker candidacy. “He will listen to our colleagues on both sides of the aisle and will not be the combative type of leader that we’ve had before.”
Also in contrast to Householder, who previously left the state legislature in 2004 under a different investigation by the FBI, Cupp has a reputation for ethical conduct among his colleagues.
Cupp said he had not imagined ever holding the job.
“My wife will still make me take the garbage out every Sunday night and haul it, and clean out the cat-litter boxes and all those kinds of things,” he said. “I like to do my own gardening, I like to mow my own lawn. And so none of those things are going to change, hopefully. And I’ve told people if I think I’m more than I am, they should tell me.”
DeWine issued a statement congratulating Cupp.
“Speaker Cupp is a man of integrity who will serve Ohio well. I look forward to working with Speaker Cupp and Senate President Obhof in the days ahead,” DeWine said.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, praised Cupp’s selection as speaker in a Twitter post. Before getting elected to the House and after leaving the Supreme Court, Cupp worked for Yost in a senior legal role while Yost was state auditor.
“Bob Cupp, the last Boy Scout... I worked with him daily for two years. He is ethical, smart, wise (and decidedly not afraid to tell the boss that he’s wrong!)” Yost said.