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DeWine, Husted react to texts showing they were involved in talks on Ohio's nuclear bailout bill

Text messages disclosed last week suggest that Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, both Republicans, were more active than previously known in pushing for passage of the nuclear power plant bailout now at the center of a corruption scandal.

The texts from now-fired FirstEnergy executives detail specific conversations with DeWine and Husted about FirstEnergy’s agenda, including House Bill 6. That billion-dollar bailout is key in the what federal prosecutors have called the largest corruption scheme in Ohio history.

DeWine said he always supported bailing out the two nuclear plants, because they produce carbon-free energy.

"We have said for over four years now that having nuclear power in the state of Ohio is important," DeWine said. "My position always was the same. We need to be able to save nuclear energy in the state of Ohio. It's in the public interest to do that. And that position never changed."

But whether he advocated for anything specific in House Bill 6, DeWine said: “Everything that was in the bill, I leave up to the legislature. But I make it very clear what my goal is. And my goal was to make sure that we continue to have nuclear power in the state of Ohio."

In one text, former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones that he had "forced DeWine/Husted to perform battlefield triage" regarding the appointment of Sam Randazzo as Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chair in 2019. Other texts said Randazzo was one of two candidates FirstEnergy supported as PUCO chair.

On that, DeWine said, "I don't know what 'battle triage' means...I guess I would just caution that I can't control what someone else says. I can control what I say, but I can't control what someone else is reporting back to their boss about. So I don't know what he's talking about."

Husted said he stands by an earlier comment that he had no involvement in the legislation.

In one text, former FirstEnergy senior vice president Michael Dowling told Jones that Husted was working on getting the legislature to pass a nuclear power plant bailout that would last 10 years.

But Husted said: "I wasn't involved in the legislative process, and I stand by that and those are the facts. I don't care what anybody else says about it. That's the truth."

But Husted said others — "people of goodwill out around Capitol Square and around the state of Ohio, labor unions, Republicans, Democrats" — also supported what he called the "right policy decision" to create subsidies for the nuclear plants, which he said was important to Ohio's environmental and economic future.

“That's separate from what FirstEnergy and Larry Householder were alleged to do," Husted said. "We will find out whether they committed a crime when that trial occurs. But the two are not the same thing. And the people who were working in good faith over here to do this didn't know anything about all of that and were trying to do the right thing."

FirstEnergy has admitted to bribing Republican former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former public utilities commission chair Sam Randazzo. Householder has said he’s innocent and faces trial in January. Randazzo isn’t charged in the House Bill 6 case.

The text messages were included in a motion the Ohio Consumers' Counsel filed with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, asking for a subpoena to depose former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones in an ongoing case which includes the possible “misallocation of costs” related to HB6.

Both DeWine and Husted also noted the new federal Inflation Reduction Act, opposed by all congressional Republicans, includes subsidies for nuclear power.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Karen is a lifelong Ohioan who has served as news director at WCBE-FM, assignment editor/overnight anchor at WBNS-TV, and afternoon drive anchor/assignment editor in WTAM-AM in Cleveland. In addition to her daily reporting for Ohio’s public radio stations, she’s reported for NPR, the BBC, ABC Radio News and other news outlets. She hosts and produces the Statehouse News Bureau’s weekly TV show “The State of Ohio”, which airs on PBS stations statewide. She’s also a frequent guest on WOSU TV’s “Columbus on the Record”, a regular panelist on “The Sound of Ideas” on ideastream in Cleveland, appeared on the inaugural edition of “Face the State” on WBNS-TV and occasionally reports for “PBS Newshour”. She’s often called to moderate debates, including the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Issue 3/legal marijuana debate and its pre-primary mayoral debate, and the City Club of Cleveland’s US Senate debate in 2012.