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NKY Lawmakers Call for Resignations as Hoover Relinquishes Speaker's Gavel

State Rep. Jeff Hoover stepped down as Speaker of the House of Representatives on Sunday, days after reports emerged that he had settled a sexual harassment claim with a female staffer, and just shy of a year after his Republican Party took control of the lower chamber for the first time in nearly a century.

Hoover (R-Jamestown) made his announcement a day after Gov. Matt Bevin, without naming him, called for the resignation of anyone who settled a sexual harassment claim.

A day earlier, Hoover released a defiant statement, critical of the governor's decision to hold a press conference and saying that he would stay Speaker through the 2018 session.

But pressure continued to mount. Two Northern Kentucky lawmakers were among eight Republicans to issue a joint statement calling for resignations, without naming Hoover directly. Joe Fischer (R-Fort Thomas) and Addia Wuchner (R-Florence) joined six others in condemning the settlements and called for the resignation of any lawmakers or legislative staff members that participated in any settlement process.

In his press conference Sunday, Hoover outlined the chain of events that led to the Courier-Journal's report about the settlement. He said a woman alleged sexual harassment and through an attorney sought a resolution. The situation was resolved through mediation, he said, and no one admitted any wrongdoing.

Text messages between Hoover and a staff member released to the media showed a sexually charged back-and-forth. Hoover said that his wife, daughter, and God had forgiven him.

While he is stepping down from the Speaker's job, he will remain a state representative, he said. Hoover accused some in Frankfort of conspiring against him for months and suggested that some of the criticism, like that from Gov. Bevin, may have been brought on by his opposition to parts of proposed changes to the state pension system, a Bevin priority.

Bevin, on Saturday, urged members of both parties to condemn sexual harassment and said that anyone involved in any settlements should resign. Lawmakers and state office holders like Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) and Treasurer Allison Ball (R) released statements condemning the alleged offenses, as did members of the legislature.

State Rep. David Osborne (R-Prospect) will take over as acting Speaker. He was previously elected Speaker Pro Tem.

The GOP caucus is investigating the settlement issue, which may involve other legislators. The Herald-Leader reported:

Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, who represented the legislative staffer who complained against Hoover, confirmed Sunday that she had entered into mediation with Hoover’s attorney and was satisfied with the outcome. He did not elaborate.

The Courier Journal reported Wednesday that Hoover had secretly settled a sexual harassment claim brought against him by a staffer in his office. On Saturday, the Herald-Leader reported that the claim had also alleged harassment by three other lawmakers: Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge; Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland and Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green.

The House GOP leadership team said Sunday the three will be removed from their positions as committee chairs, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

State Rep. Sal Santoro (R-Florence) also released a statement late Sunday night.

"I’m saddened by the information  made public in the last week in Kentucky’s House of Representatives," Santoro said. "I do believe in due process and hope an outside investigation will reveal the most important facts in this case.  As the father of two adult daughters, it grieves me to think they would have to accept any inappropriate behavior from any superior or co-worker, male or female. To that end, I support Jeff Hoover’s decision to step down as Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives for the good of the Commonwealth.  

"As always, I will continue to fight hard for the families of Boone County’s 60th District in Kentucky’s House of Representatives.  We have many important issues before us, including pension reform, tax reform and our bi-annual budget.  Our roads and schools are in desperate need of budget relief.  Our teachers are underpaid and overworked and our citizens are ready for us to move the Commonwealth forward, so Kentucky will be a great place to live, work and raise a family." 

-Staff report

Photo: Jeff Hoover (via LRC)