FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – A special bipartisan committee will decide what to do about a complaint by eight lawmakers seeking to oust Kentucky’s GOP House speaker after he secretly settled a sexual harassment complaint with a female legislative aide.
In a case that had already roiled state politics, the formal disciplinary charges filed Wednesday against Jeff Hoover include sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment and using taxpayer resources to hide the allegations from the public.
Hoover’s actions, the lawmakers allege, “violated statute, brought great harm to the body’s ability to conduct the people’s business, and irreparably damaged the reputation of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Hoover told The Associated Press he believes the complaint is motivated by politics. Its signers include Republican Rep. Phil Moffett, who Hoover said has “wanted to be speaker since he got here.”
“He has been working with this small group of legislators and the executive branch for weeks in their collective effort to harm me,” Hoover said. “So, I’m not surprised. They can’t touch my faith, and my family and lots of friends still support me, and they will not take away my joy.”
Hoover has denied sexual harassment, but said he sent inappropriate yet consensual text messages to a woman who once worked for the House Republican Caucus.
Moffett declined to respond to Hoover’s comments, but said “we have a duty and a responsibility to discipline our members.”
“We can’t allow cover-ups and sexual harassment and hostile work environments and things like that to happen. It’s absolutely unacceptable,” he said.
The complaint was filed under new House rules adopted Tuesday, which require a special committee of three Republicans and three Democrats to investigate. Republican Rep. Jerry Miller, as chairman of the State Government Committee, will chair the special committee and will only vote to break a tie.
“It’s not my intention to drag it on a day longer than it has to,” Miller said.
The lawmakers wrote in the complaint, “Upon finding these charges to be true, we respectfully ask the committee to recommend the expulsion of (Hoover) from the House of Representatives.”
In November, Hoover appeared to be one of dozens of powerful men across the country toppled by allegations of sexual harassment or abuse. He announced he would resign as speaker but keep his seat in the legislature. But Tuesday, Hoover said he was only temporarily stepping aside as speaker “until further notice,” leaving open the possibility he could return to power.
The settlement signed by Hoover and three other Republican lawmakers was handled outside of court and paid for with private money to avoid publicity. But the Courier Journal exposed the settlement, creating an uproar in a state that was transitioning to Republican rule after decades of dominance by Democrats.
The complaint was signed by Moffett and fellow Republican state Reps. Addia Wuchner, Kim King, Russell Webber, Stan Lee, Robert Benvenuti, Tim Moore and Joe Fischer. It says Hoover sent text messages to the woman requesting photos of her in a “black lace g string,” saying they were “for my eyes only” and promising to delete them.
It also says Hoover created a hostile work environment by using his office to “conduct interviews and intimidate witnesses (who) had knowledge of his illicit relationship.”
House Republican Caucus spokeswoman Daisy Olivo has filed a lawsuit claiming Hoover and the woman involved in the settlement had “physical, sexual encounters” and that he used money from prominent political donors to pay for the settlement. But the woman, through her attorney, said none of that was true. Hoover has also denied having a sexual relationship with the woman.
Hoover and the other Republican lawmakers who signed the settlement say a confidentiality clause prevents them from discussing it publicly. House GOP leaders have asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to use its subpoena power to determine if lawmakers used money from political donors or registered lobbyists to pay the settlement, which could violate state law.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has publicly urged Hoover to give up his position as speaker and his seat in the legislature. Bevin told a WKYX radio on Tuesday he still expects Hoover to resign this week.
“Well he’s very misinformed, but beyond that I’m not going to say anything,” Hoover said.
A spokeswoman for Bevin did not respond to an email seeking comment.
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