FRANKFORT, Ky. – One day after the Kentucky House speaker temporarily ceded power in the aftermath of a secret sexual harassment settlement, he and his colleagues are attending mandatory training aimed at curbing the problem.
Jeff Hoover had announced he would resign as speaker two months ago, shortly after acknowledging he secretly settled a sexual harassment claim outside of court with a woman who worked for the House Republican Caucus.
But Tuesday, when the legislature convened, Hoover did not resign. Instead, he authorized House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne to preside over the chamber “until further notice.” That opens the door for Hoover to return as speaker once the Legislative Ethics Commission finishes looking into the settlement and whether Hoover and others used money from political donors and lobbyists to pay it.
Meanwhile, Hoover and others attended mandatory anti-harassment training on Wednesday. It’s part of reforms put in place several years ago after some state workers sued a former Democratic state representative for sexual harassment.
Wednesday’s training, conducted by the Legislative Research Commission, was closed to the public. The Associated Press objected to the closure. Osborne, the acting House speaker, said he didn’t know the meeting would be closed and didn’t ask for it.
Commission Director David Byerman said the state’s open meetings law does not apply because lawmakers are not “conducting legislative business.”
“I think that having video cameras or newspaper reporters there is going to make it less likely they will be able to ask candid questions,” Byerman said.
Hoover attended the training but declined to speak with reporters, saying he would rely on a written statement he issued Tuesday. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has publicly urged Hoover to give up not just his position as speaker, but 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.
In November, Hoover appeared to be one of dozens of powerful men across the country toppled by allegations of sexual harassment or abuse. He denied sexually harassing a woman who once worked for the House Republican Caucus, although he acknowledged sending her inappropriate but consensual text messages.
At the time, Hoover said his resignation was “effective immediately” and in the best interest of the state. But his resignation does not become official unless he formally submits it to the House, and he can only do that when the House is in session.
When the House convened Tuesday, Hoover did not resign. He said he has heard from “both Republicans and Democrats, as well as business leaders, political leaders and others across the Commonwealth, encouraging me to reconsider my decision to resign.”
In a statement, Hoover said that as he considered the best course, with two issues pending before the Legislative Ethics Commission, he had asked Osborne to preside over the House until further notice.
House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said the Democratic caucus unanimously believes Hoover should resign. But Hoover’s decision has divided House Republicans. GOP Rep. Richard Heath has lobbied for Hoover to return. Republican Rep. Wesley Morgan, who has filed a resolution to expel Hoover from the House, said he was “dumbfounded” by Hoover’s choice not to resign.
“He’s taking the House of Representatives away from the people’s business,” he said.
Hoover was one of four Republican lawmakers to settle the sexual harassment claim. The other three have all lost their committee chairmanships. None has resigned from the legislature.
House Republican Caucus spokeswoman Daisy Olivo has filed a lawsuit alleging that Hoover had a sexual relationship with the woman and used money from political donors to pay the settlement. The woman, through her attorney, said none of that was true. The Associated Press generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual misconduct.
Hoover and the other Republican lawmakers say a confidentiality clause in the settlement 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.