Saturday, September 02, 2000

Householder defended in light of record




By Debra Jasper
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Republican lawmakers who support Rep. Larry Householder as choice for Ohio House speaker came to his defense Friday after revelations that he has more alcohol-related convictions than previously known.

        At the same time, the Perry County representative moved to assure the state leader of an anti-drunken- driving organization that he's broken with his past.

        “Sure, it's an embarrassment, but the way he's handled himself proves why he should be speaker,” said Rep. Gary Cates, R-West Chester. “He's picked himself up gracefully and I think he's stronger because of it.”

        The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Friday that Mr. Householder, expected to become the next speaker of the Ohio House, had been convicted of four alcohol-re lated offenses in the past 16 years. One of his two DUIs inexplicably did not appear on his driving record.

        Even those opposed to Mr. Householder's bid to become the next speaker said they don't expect the publicity to derail his ambitions. And while some Republican legislators privately suggested that Mr. Householder might now be more vulnerable, most felt strongly he will take the helm in January.

        House Speaker Jo Ann Da vidson, who will leave office this year because of term limits, said she didn't know about Mr. Householder's earlier arrest record until Friday.

        But, she said, “I don't think it will have much effect one way or another.”

        Mr. Householder, 41, said he spent the day fielding calls from legislators and others who expressed support after learning he had

        repeatedly had problems with alcohol.

        Three years ago, Mr. Householder acknowledged that he had been charged with driving under the influence after he drove his car into a ditch on July 4 near Thornville in southeast Ohio's Perry County. At the time, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicle reports showed that it was his first alcohol-related offense.

        However, files reviewed by the Enquirer this week showed that Mr. Householder had been arrested twice in the 1980s on charges of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and a third time for disorderly conduct while intoxicated.

        He was convicted in 1984 of operating a motor vehicle under the influence and served three days in jail and had his license suspended. In 1988, he pleaded guilty to an amended charge of operating a vehicle recklessly, paid a $100 fine and again had his license suspended. And in 1989, he pleaded guilty to the third charge and paid a $63 fine.

        “Everyone has a book of life, and the last couple of days have been about me looking at pages I wish I did not have to look at again,” Mr. Householder said. “But your life is your life. You can't change what's done.”

        He said many legislators called to share with him stories of their own tough times and how they survived them.

        “It's just all been positive,” he said.

        However, Susan Gwinn, chairwoman of the Athens County Democratic Party, said she also spent the day taking phone calls. She said most of them were from angry constituents in Mr. Householder's 78th House District, which includes Hocking and Perry counties along with parts of Licking and Athens counties.

        “There has been a firestorm here. People are appalled,” Ms. Gwinn said.

        Mr. Householder, who says he stopped drinking in 1997 after his last DUI conviction, also on Friday called Judy Mead, executive director of the state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

        He said he made the call after learning of her concern over how he would vote on legislation cracking down on drunken drivers.

        “I just think there are things I can offer people within that organization because I'm someone who has dealt with DUI,” he said.

        Ms. Mead said that after talking to Mr. Householder, she thinks he will be open-minded about her group's goals.

        “He was talking about his recovery from alcohol, which MADD applauds,” she said.

        Ms. Mead said her organization is careful about appearing to en dorse or criticize a candidate. She said MADD keeps a close eye on all officials, particularly those who have had alcohol-related offenses.

        “That doesn't mean we're going to condemn them to hell, it just means we're going to watch their behavior,” she said.

        “When we're talking about real people who die every day from drunk-driving crashes, you realize that what this is about is getting anything done you can to stop that.”

       



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