Statehouse and Repeal HB6 sign

One year ago on July 21, 2020, I was in The Bahamas on what felt like the first vacation I’d been able to take since the global pandemic started, mainly because it was. It seemed like the world had made it to halftime with the coronavirus crisis and things were “kinda sorta” getting back to normal. After a day of swimming around the reefs off Andros Island, I returned to my cell phone in the afternoon to find what must have been dozens of texts from various political friends in Ohio. From a news cycle that had been constantly dominated by COVID-19 throughout most of 2020, a new combination of letters and numbers had emerged for Ohioans to understand –– HB 6.

When the FBI announced the arrests last year –– in addition to the investigation that led to them –– the U.S. Attorneys said HB 6 was likely “the biggest pay-to-play bribery scandal” in Ohio’s history. Some very notable arrests were made earlier in the morning –– then-Speaker of the House Larry Householder, former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges, longtime Columbus powerbroker Neil Clark, as well as lobbyists Jeff Longstreth and Juan Cespedes had all been put in handcuffs and hauled downtown in what could only be described as “very informal wear.” In terms of recent Ohio political news –– which had already seen another Republican speaker of the House previously charged by the FBI in the last few years –– this was not just a media bombshell, but a political earthquake.

However, for Ohioans who aren’t political wonks, it’s often been hard to explain the HB 6 saga. “REPEAL HB6” wasn’t exactly something people could vote for on their ballot in 2020. Despite the incredible multi-partisan alliance that emerged from the ashes of HB 6 to fight the necessary “PR war” –– including groups like Ohio Citizen Action, Ohio Environmental Council, Sierra Club’s Ohio Chapter, The Free Press and several others –– HB 6’s real battles needed to be fought in the Statehouse, where Householder had built up a majority of lackeys in The 133rd General Assembly. The 2020 statehouse elections offered little hope for change, leaving the HB 6 mess in the laps of The 134th General Assembly instead. Thankfully, a few good legislators on both sides have since emerged to right some of HB 6’s wrongs, recently repealing the nuclear bailouts and even expelling Householder from his House seat.

On the legal front, Longstreth, Cespedes and even “the enterprise” –– aka Generation Now, the non-profit Householder and his allies used to funnel $60 million from various Ohio energy companies to pass (and protect) HB 6 –– have all pleaded guilty, while Clark died by suicide in March 2021 shortly after finishing a “tell all” book, which is now available and includes major accusations against Governor Mike DeWine. Energy Harbor (the subsidiary company that FirstEnergy eventually became) is cooperating with federal investigators and has released several top corporate bosses, including former CEO Chuck Jones. Only Householder and Borges continue to brashly defend their actions and maintain their innocence with depearate “not guilty” pleas, with highlights of their eventual defenses seen in Householder’s testimony before his expulsion, or in Borges’ unhinged Twitter rantsand the ridiculous affidavit he filed with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office last month. One highlight –– Borges now claims he was “joking” when he threatened to “blow up” a FBI informant’s house! Haha! What a joker that guy is… And everyone thought stand-up comedy was dead!

But seriously folks, it’s hard to emphasize just how significant the HB 6 scandal –– and it’s exposure –– has been for Ohio politics. For years, I watched the Ohio Republican Party’s supermajority grow and slowly destroy everything decent in our state, never truly understanding how far the corruption really went. When I ran against Mike DeWine as the Libertarian Party of Ohio’s candidate for governor in 2018, how was I supposed to know that he was meeting with FirstEnergy’s corporate leadership in back rooms, making deals worth millions of dollars? How was I supposed to know that one of Ohio’s most corrupt fat dumps –– Matt Borges –– lived in my hometown of Bexley, masquerading around like he was some kind of “fun-dad-Tony-Soprano-wannabe” amongst the suburbanites? In addition to all of this, in May 2021 it was revealed The Buckeye State is finally #1 in something that isn’t football –– instead, it’s public corruption. While it’s a stain the people of Ohio didn’t earn themselves, it will take all of us to start righting these wrongs. After all, as disappointing as HB 6 has been, it’s opened a lot of eyes (and doors) on what’s really happening behind the scenes in Ohio politics. Hopefully, it’ll eventually shed more light onto just how bad Ohio’s corruption has become and more importantly, how we can fix it.