Ethics panel's decision on John Arnold shows 'war on women continues' in Frankfort, staffer says

04/08/2014 10:27 PM

One of the legislative staff members who first made public inappropriate behavior of former Democratic lawmaker John Arnold said Tuesday that she and the other aggrieved staffers were let down by the legislative ethics process.

“Clearly there’s a war on women in Frankfort at the Capitol, and (I’m) just very saddened that it wasn’t in our favor today,” Yolanda Costner said Tuesday evening after the Legislative Ethics Commission failed to get five votes on the nine-member panel needed to levy guilty charges against Arnold.

Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis who represented Union and parts of Henderson and Daviess counties for nearly two decades, resigned in September amid the allegations that he inappropriately touched and made comments to Costner and two other legislative staffers. Costner and Cassaundra Cooper were the first two staff members to come forward last year with complaints about Arnold dating back to 2010. Later in August, a third staff members, Gloria Morgan, filed a separate harassment complaint.

The three made their case before the Legislative Ethics Commission. And Costner praised the commission’s investigators for the way they presented the case.

Her frustration stems from the process that she said appears politically tainted. With four members of the Legislative Ethics Commission saying they believed Arnold violated the legislative ethics code, the fifth member who was present voted the other way. That member, Lebanon lawyer Elmer George, was appointed by Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo earlier this year.

Costner said lawmakers should consider changing how the members of the commission are appointed to avoid the perception — or the reality — of legislative leaders exerting influence to avoid policing themselves.

Costner said while some lawmakers have been supportive throughout the process, others — whom she wouldn’t name — have told her to “get over it.” But they are missing the point, she said.

“Going to work every day, having to worry about whether you were going to have your behind grabbed, your shoulders groped, your back stroked inappropriately when you don’t want to be touched — and also slapped on the behind. It’s disrespectful,” she said.

Costner was not alone in her concerns. Other Democrats, including Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and Crit Luallen, the former state auditor and potential 2015 gubernatorial candidate, expressed their disappointment and frustration about the decision.

However, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who has made women’s issues and workplace fairness an issue in her U.S. Senate campaign, declined to answer reporters questions about it after speaking at a Democratic Party event in Lexington — the same event Costner attended. Grimes ignored reporters as she spoke with a supporter on her way out of the event. Her staff said she wasn’t taking any questions.

_(Watch Pure Politics Wednesday night for more). _


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