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Sexual Harassment Scandal Reveals Divisions In Kentucky’s New GOP House Majority

J. Tyler Franklin

Allegations that House Speaker Jeff Hoover and other Republican lawmakers sexually harassed a female staffer have rocked the state capitol in recent days, pitting political allies against each other and unearthing deep divisions within Kentucky’s GOP.

Hoover resigned from his position as speaker, admitting to exchanging “inappropriate text messages” with an employee.

But he denied committing sexual harassment and claimed he was the target of a political conspiracy to bring him down.

“It’s fair to say that I am not the favored legislator of some in this Capitol,” Hoover said in his resignation speech. “I leave this speaker’s position with no animosity toward anyone. Not even those who have been working and conspiring for months for this result.”

The comments appeared to be directed towards Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who on Saturday called for everyone implicated in the scandal and similar ones to resign.

After Bevin’s comments, Hoover released a statement that questioned whether Bevin was trying to silence him for publicly disagreeing with the governor’s pension proposal.

“In effect, the Governor seeks to be judge, jury, and executioner without hearing the evidence,” Hoover wrote in the statement.

“One must wonder why he is so motivated to attack us unless his goal is to remove a voice that dares on occasion to disagree with him as I have done when he has made unnecessary statements attacking our teachers, state workers and retirees who are simply looking for better solutions to very serious problems facing our state.”

Split On Pensions

Hoover had recently said he wouldn’t vote for Bevin’s pension proposal “in its current form” and criticized comments the governor made about teachers “hoarding sick days.”

Several other Republican lawmakers— especially ones in rural districts where government and local school districts are sometimes the largest employers — had also expressed misgivings about Bevin’s plan, which would phase out the state’s pension system and move most future and some current workers onto less-generous 401(k)-style retirement plans.

Then the Louisville Courier-Journal broke a story saying Hoover had secretly settled a harassment claim out of court — upending any discussion about pensions while Republicans scramble to sort out the scandal.

Over the last year, Hoover has been celebrated by Republicans, who won control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1921.

A 21-year legislative veteran, Hoover was instrumental in shepherding major Republican initiatives into law. Those include right-to-work legislation, two anti-abortion measures and a bill that allows charter schools to open up in Kentucky for the first time.

But the scandal has sent the Republican majority in the state House of Representatives scrambling — and that’s included differing opinions on Hoover and his political future.

Split On Hoover

At first House GOP leaders claimed Hoover had the “full support” of the caucus, a point which was almost immediately contradicted by freshman Rep. Wesley Morgan, who called for Hoover to resign and said he had tipped off the FBI about the allegations.

Eight other House Republicans also called for Hoover and all other members involved in the scandal to resign.

Once Bevin called for resignations, House leaders — without Hoover — announced they would hire a law firm to investigate the harassment allegations. A day later, they removed three other Republicans implicated in the scandal from their committee chairmanships.

Those lawmakers are Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge, Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland and Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green.

The FBI confirmed on Monday that it is looking into allegations of harassment and retaliation in the state capitol.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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