Greenspan, Koehler, Smith - the three who stood up to Larry Householder
Then-state Rep. Dave Greenspan of Westlake in 2019 at the Ohio Statehouse. Though Greenspan not only stood up to then-Speaker Larry Householder and resisted his pressure to vote for House Bill 6, cooperated with FBI agents investigating wrong dong in the case, and later testified at Householder's recent federal corruption trial, voters in the Westshore communities Greenspan had represented at the Statehouse denied him re-election in 2020; he is now president of Westlake City Council. In his column today, Brent Larkin singles out Greenspan, former Springfield Rep. Kyle Koehler and ex-Speaker Ryan Smith as examples of Republicans who courageously eschewed political expediency to oppose Householder and his allies at the Statehouse.
CLEVELAND -- Precious few politicians leave elected office with reputations better than when they entered it.
Most of the exceptions were widely known and popular with voters, people like the late George Voinovich, holder of seven offices in his long career, and Louis Stokes, holder of one. Far rarer are the politicians little known for their service, but deserving of being long remembered for their integrity.
Ryan Smith, David Greenspan and Kyle Koehler are three of those rare exceptions, former Republican members of the Ohio House who suffered through an era when that Republican-run body was earning a national reputation for corruption and extremism. The three represented districts totaling barely 3% of Ohio’s population, but their willingness to publicly condemn the sleazy tactics of former House Speaker Larry Householder and his stooges should have earned them the gratitude of an entire state.
Householder is now a convicted criminal. Smith, who lost his job as speaker in early 2019 when Householder and a minority of House Republicans conspired with a group of House Democrats to oust him, resigned a few months later to become president of Rio Grande College near his southern Ohio home.
Greenspan represented Cuyahoga County’s Westshore area for two terms. He was defeated for re-election in 2020 and is now president of Westlake City Council and a lobbyist for the MetroHealth system. Koehler, part owner of a family manufacturing business in Springfield, served eight years in the House. Term limits prevented him from seeking re-election in 2022. He is considering a race for the Ohio Senate in 2024.
Both Greenspan and Koehler testified against Householder in his trial on federal racketeering charges, telling jurors of threats and pressure from Householder and his allies who wanted his support for House Bill 6, the FirstEnergy bailout at the heart of a $60 million bribery scheme. Both Greenspan and Koehler voted against the bill. Prior to its passage, Greenspan contacted the FBI about the threats.
On March 9, a jury found Householder and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges guilty of racketeering, which carries a possible prison sentence of 20 years.
Smith was considered a rising star prior to losing the speaker’s job to Householder. The defeat left him disillusioned over the corrupt influence that seems to pervade the Ohio General Assembly.
“I was in a pretty dark place,” he told me last week. “I feel better now that the truth came to light. But I also have mixed emotions about the whole thing because I hate to see the institution’s reputation suffer.”
Smith is in a job that can contribute more to help young people in his economically challenged region than as a member of a legislature. “My life is great now,” said the father of four. “The school is making a real impact in the region and I’m able to coach my daughter’s fifth-grade basketball team.”
Smith was elected speaker by his GOP peers following the unexpected resignation of Cliff Rosenberger amid an FBI investigation into his spending and travel. Rosenberger was never charged with wrongdoing, but was widely known as a puppet for the payday lending industry, which gouged working-class Ohioans with the highest short-term interest rates in the country.
When he became speaker, Smith helped pass a bill sponsored by Koehler that installed reasonable limits on what lenders can charge. Not surprisingly, Householder voted against final passage of the reform law.
When the jury returned its guilty verdict against Householder, Koehler tweeted about him, “I would not wish jail on anyone. But he brought this mess to the Ohio House. He ruined careers. He is guilty.”
Householder and his acolytes despised Greenspan. Nevertheless, Greenspan has built a successful career beyond the Statehouse cesspool, while Householder appears headed for the federal penitentiary.
“I hope all this serves as a catalyst to bring responsible government back to the legislature,” said Greenspan, engaging in a bit of wishful thinking. “I believe there is honor and nobility in public life. I sleep very well at night, knowing I did the right thing.”
He did, indeed. In denouncing Householder prior his conviction, Ryan Smith, David Greenspan and Kyle Koehler showed rare courage. One needn’t agree with everything in their voting records to appreciate their unique commitment to an honest state government.
Brent Larkin was The Plain Dealer’s editorial director from 1991 until his retirement in 2009.