A sexual harassment scandal at the Kentucky Statehouse has rocked the state’s politics in recent days, resulting in a top Republican lawmaker stepping down from his leadership post. House Speaker Jeff Hoover resigned from his position (though not from the Legislature) this weekend after backlash grew to news that he had made a secret settlement to stave off sexual harassment claims. Three other Republican legislators and the speaker’s chief of staff reportedly also made their own settlements.
Reaction was swift and overwhelming in Kentucky, led by Republicans calling out one of the most powerful members of their state party. Hoover tried to hold onto his seat of power as the scandal played out, but lost too much support from within his own caucus. Governor Matt Bevin (pictured above), a fellow Republican, made it clear that those involved should leave government.
“Any elected official or state employee who has settled a sexual harassment claim should resign immediately,” Bevin said over the weekend. “The people of Kentucky deserve better. We appropriately demand a high level of integrity from our leaders, and will tolerate nothing less in our state.”
Other House Republicans launched an investigation, making sure to exclude Hoover from their deliberations. Another Republican lawmaker, Wesley Morgan, called for Hoover’s resignation or impeachment before the speaker stepped down, telling the Courier-Journal he had learned that the leadership team may have covered up even more harassment claims before. He also noted that there were efforts to punish any potential whistle-blowers.
“I’m not going to go along to get along,” Morgan said of the possibility he’d get run out of politics by calling for Hoover’s resignation. “And if people have been guilty – I’m saying IF people have been guilty of doing these things – they have no place in state politics.”
The reaction in Kentucky this past week was a very stark contrast to what happened in Iowa several months ago during Kirsten Anderson’s sexual harassment trial against Iowa Senate Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix still downplays the case to this day, dismissing the harassment lawsuit that they had to settle for $1.75 million as stuff that “happens all the time” in state government. And Governor Kim Reynolds defended Dix while shifting most of the responsibility for the matter to the Legislature.
“I appreciate the steps that they are taking, and I have faith in Senator Dix,” Reynolds said at a press conference in August of the man who saw Anderson fired hours after she complained of an unsafe work environment.
The staffer accused of the most disgusting acts of sexual harassment was still employed by Senate Republicans throughout Anderson’s trial, and only finally resigned in mid-September of this year. Aside from his own word, there has been no indications that Dix has ever taken Anderson’s accusations seriously, even as more of his staff testified at the trial about inappropriate conduct. Still, Reynolds backed up Dix.
She also defended the state’s payment of (at the time) $2.2 million for the Anderson trial verdict.
That all is a far cry from what Republican leaders in Kentucky did upon learning of their sexual harassment settlements, and they faced offenders with much more power than the Iowa situation. Anderson’s case focused on legislative analyst Jim Friedrich and former Senator Shawn Hamerlinck. Kentucky’s situation deals with the House Speaker, his chief of staff and three other current legislators.
It’s a big deal to call for all of their resignations, which could be met with political payback at some point. Reynolds couldn’t even bring herself to demand that Dix get rid of Friedrich – the best she could muster was saying an outside investigation into Senate practices was “not a bad idea.”
“They’re going to have to make the decision on what they have to do,” Reynolds said of the Senate Republicans in July. “I don’t control them.”
If there’s been on thing that’s become apparent in the avalanche of news about sexual harassment cases across the country lately, it’s that people in power don’t change unless there’s overwhelming consequences. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin seems to understand that. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds doesn’t.
by Pat Rynard
Bevin photo via Gage Skidmore