CLEVELAND, Ohio – In the days before the vote on House Bill 6, the legislative bailout of two nuclear power plants, Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder’s political strategist reached out to Dave Greenspan, the Republican state representative from Westlake, with a not-so subtle message about the vote.
Jeff Longstreth texted Greenspan and urged him to side with Householder. Greenspan balked, and Longstreth pushed several reasons why the representative should vote for the measure.
“I also know that if 4,000 jobs are lost in an election year, you are going to get the blame,” Longstreth said in the text. “Everyone in office will get the blame.”
The text and thousands of pages of records released Wednesday offer a backroom view of the pressure Householder and others placed on legislators in the days before last year’s vote on the tainted legislation and the subsequent scandal that resulted in bribery charges against Householder and others.
The $1.3 billion bailout of the two nuclear plants that had been owned by a former FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary is the focus of the wide-spread bribery investigation.
The documents stem from information that federal authorities had subpoenaed from the Ohio Statehouse regarding the probe. The papers, obtained through a public records request, include texts to and from legislators, drafts of bills, letters from constituents and hundreds of emails. They describe the insistence of Householder’s allies and Householder’s contempt for those who defied him.
“Nobody comes after the team without consequences,” Householder said in a text to Greenspan, referring to another legislator.
Federal prosecutors charged Householder, Longstreth and three others in July with federal racketeering charges, claiming the men collected more than $60 million in bribes from FirstEnergy and its affiliates to pass the bill and defeat a referendum. Longstreth and lobbyist Juan Cespedes have pleaded guilty to the charges. They are the first to be convicted in the scandal. A date for their sentencings has not been set.
In the texts, Longstreth pushed the legislation to Greenspan. But Greenspan said mayors in his district were against the measure. Longstreth fired back, downplaying the views of the mayors. The strategist stressed that most constituents did not have enough insight into the legislation.
Householder also was emphatic.
“I really need you to vote yes on House Bill 6,” Householder wrote in a text before the vote. “It means a lot to me.”
Greenspan voted against the bill, despite the push from Householder and Longstreth.
Afterward, Greenspan congratulated Householder: “I respect your hard work and commitment to House Bill 6. I know we weren’t on the same side on this issue, but I hope we will be on others.”
A response from Householder, if there was one, wasn’t included in the documents. Greenspan on Wednesday declined to comment. He lost his seat to Democrat Monique Smith in November.
Others said they felt the pressure, as well. Rick Carfagna, a Republican representative from Delaware County, said in a text to an associate that he received a call from Gov. Mike DeWine in the days before the vote, urging the passage of the bill.
A DeWine spokesman told cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer on Thursday that the governor did stump for the legislation, but he has since called for its repeal, citing the federal allegations.
Carfagna also voted against the bill. In texts, he questioned the bill and the process of the supporters pushing it.
“After every conversation I had with someone on this, I felt like I needed a shower,” he said in a text. “No wonder [FirstEnergy Solutions is] bankrupt. Everyone is on [its] payroll. This bill has bad news written all over it, both politically and policy wise.”
He could not be reached Thursday.
A spokeswoman for FirstEnergy, Jennifer Young, said in an email that she could not speak for FirstEnergy Solutions, which had owned the plants and filed for bankruptcy in 2018. A new company called Energy Harbor now owns the facilities.
Young said she could not comment on behalf of FirstEnergy, citing the pending investigation.
In another text, Carfagna told an associate: “I either piss off my base by voting no or vote yes and take my chances with everyone else in the general election. The speaker sure is making it hard to keep GOP seats in the suburban areas.”
Householder, however, was proud of his work in passing the legislation, according to the texts. Days after DeWine signed the bill into law, Householder sent a message to Rep. Bill Seitz, a Republican from Hamilton County.
“What does it tell you that the Southwest Ohio [Republican statehouse delegation] only had one no vote on 6 – the highest percentage of any region in the state and the farthest from FirstEnergy territory, with 11 ‘yes’ votes?”
“They’re smart,” Seitz, an adamant proponent of the legislation, texted back.
“Tells me [the region’s GOP House members] understand the team concept better than a lot of others do,” Householder said.
Householder’s attorney, Mark Marein, did not return a message seeking comment. Householder has denied the allegations. A trial date has not been set.