- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Any potential comeback by ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder won’t go unchallenged.

The once-powerful Republican said last week that unfinished business on policy matters has him considering a return run for the district including his Perry County home.

In a district where the winner of the Republican primary will almost certainly land the seat, a three-way GOP primary is shaping up. Coshocton City Council President Cliff Biggers is already running and a second GOP contender, local businessman Randal Almendinger, is circulating petitions.

Both Almendinger and Householder have until Dec. 16 to file.

High interest in the seat shows top Republicans aren’t clearing the way for Householder’s victory. Supporters have said Householder would bring valuable skill and experience to the Statehouse, but his detractors say he led an era of heavy-handed politics that shouldn’t be repeated.

Householder, 56, left Columbus a decade ago amid a federal investigation into allegations of money laundering and irregular campaign practices.

An anonymous, nine-page memo leaked to the FBI, IRS and then-Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell in 2004 accused the House Republican Campaign Committee that Householder oversaw of overpaying vendors, then having those vendors make secret payments back to Householder and his advisers.

Householder said at the time the memo contained “half-truths and outright lies.” After a two-year investigation, the U.S. Justice Department declined to prosecute.

If he runs, Householder would join a group of seasoned Republican lawmakers seeking to return to the House next year. They include Senate President Keith Faber and state Sens. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, Tom Patton of Cleveland, Jim Hughes of Columbus and possibly Chris Widener of Springfield.

All served under Householder when he was speaker, potentially giving him critical mass to seek another speakership. Householder insists he’s not going for the job.

He is, however, working to line up support for getting back to the Statehouse. Powerful retired lobbyist John Mahaney, of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, said he supports the effort.

“Larry is a very hard-working, loyal guy. I thought he did a nice job as speaker,” he said. “His staff didn’t do him any favors, but he himself certainly was four-square with me. His word was his bond, as I prided myself at having mine be over the years. Also, we’re a couple of hillbillies - him from Glenford, me from Zanesville - so we got along.”

Mahaney noted some storied Ohio politicians - including late Republican Gov. James Rhodes and the late Democratic House Speaker Vern Riffe - hailed from Appalachia. But the district Householder is eyeing has been redrawn to be more urban and less rural since Householder last served, so it’s unclear whether it would be so easy to win.

Biggers, who is black, may attract campaign and financial help from his party since he would lend some desired diversity to the nearly all-white House Republican caucus. He is a retired police detective and pastor of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Coshocton.

Almendinger is a Republican party insider well-known in Licking County, where he owns newspapers, a commercial cleaning company and a real estate company and has served in public roles including school board and township trustee.

Householder has served as Perry County commissioner and auditor. He was speaker from 2001 to 2004.

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