State House Speakers find themselves the target of law enforcement

State House Speakers in Ohio and Illinois appear to be facing some legal trouble, and that reminds me of a fascinating trifecta from five years ago.
Ohio State Representative Larry Householder (R), of District 72, stands at the head of a legislative session as Speaker of the House in Columbus on Oct. 30, 2019.
Ohio State Representative Larry Householder (R), of District 72, stands at the head of a legislative session as Speaker of the House in Columbus on Oct. 30, 2019.John Minchillo / AP

In late 2014 and early 2015, there was an amazing trifecta involving state House Speakers and scandals that would force them from office. It started in September 2014, when South Carolina’s then-state House Speaker, Bobby Harrell (R), was indicted on multiple criminal counts, including “six counts of using campaign funds for personal use.”

A month later, Alabama’s then-state House Speaker, Mike Hubbard (R), was arrested for multiple alleged felonies, including the misuse of his public office for personal gain. And in case that wasn't enough, in January 2015, federal prosecutors indicted New York's then-state House Speaker, Sheldon Silver (D), on corruption charges.

The current situation isn't quite as bad, but we're getting there. The headline from the Dayton Daily News reads this morning: "FBI agents are at Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder’s farm."

Police activity is being reported at Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder’s farm in Perry County and the U.S. Attorney’s office said it is holding a 2:30 p.m. press conference today related to $60 million in bribes paid to a state official and associates.... Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were at the Householder property in Glenford early this morning, said Perry County Sheriff Sgt. Brandon Forester.

It's important to emphasize that none of the reporting indicates that Ohio's Republican state House Speaker is facing charges yet, but as a rule, when federal prosecutors and the FBI are investigating corruption, and agents show up at a powerful lawmaker's home, it's not a great sign. [Update: The Dayton Daily News has updated its earlier reporting to indicate that Householder is now in federal custody: "He is charged with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering scheme — a charge that carries up to 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine."]

Meanwhile, 400 miles to the west, a Democratic state House Speaker appears to be facing some difficult scrutiny of his own. The Associated Press reported late last week:

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan “must resign” if allegations of corruption are true against the fellow Democrat long considered the state’s most powerful lawmaker... Federal prosecutors said electric utility ComEd has agreed to pay $200 million to resolve a federal criminal investigation into a long-running bribery scheme that implicates Madigan.

The Illinois lawmaker, who also serves as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, has acknowledged receiving subpoenas for documents, but Madigan has also denied any wrongdoing.

Nevertheless, as the Chicago Tribune reported this morning, a growing number of Illinois Democrats, including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, are calling for the state House Speaker's ouster if the allegations are true.