House Democrats rush to contain scandal as more names and another harassment complaint emerge

08/22/2013 09:34 PM

House Democrats moved Thursday to implement reforms to guard against sexual harassment in the Capitol even as more details — including names of other legislators — raised more questions about relationships between staffers and lawmakers.

One lawmaker — Rep. Reginald Meeks, who witnessed one of the incidents of assault — said on the House floor Thursday that legislators must move swiftly to change a “culture” that gives a “wink and a nod” to harassing behavior.

The behavior of Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, remains at the center of the scandal. Detailed complaints to the Legislative Ethics Commission by two legislative staff members outline allegations of inappropriate touching and comments made by Arnold between 2010 and 2013. WFPL first reported the complaints Wednesday. A third staff member filed a complaint with the commission Thursday alleging similar conduct by Arnold dating back to 2009, as the Herald-Leader first reported .

Arnold has declined to talk to reporters and wasn’t present at Thursday’s meeting of the special session dealing with redistricting.

The complaints paint a picture of repeated verbal abuse of the staff members and assault, in which one staff member said Arnold hit her on the buttocks in February 2013. Copies the first two complaints were provided to Pure Politics by Thomas Clay, the attorney for two of the staffers, Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper.

The complaint also says one former House Democratic leader ignored Costner’s initial attempt to report an incident from March 2010 in which Arnold grabbed her underwear. Costner’s complaint said she told then-Democratic Whip John Will Stacy of Morgan County about the incident, which was witnessed by Meeks. Stacy told Costner that Arnold “was harmless,” according to the complaint.

Stacy declined an interview on Thursday.

The complaint also included other instances of drama that pointed to blurred lines between staffers and lawmakers. It describes a March 2012 ransacking of the workspace of the then-secretary for Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps. According to the complaint, a copy of a sexually explicit text sent by Hall to the secretary was left behind. Hall denied having an inappropriate relationship with his then-secretary but he confirmed the ransacking of her workspace. He said it was the result of being “in the process of a divorce,” adding that his office was wrecked as well.

The complaint said House leadership later transferred the woman out of Hall’s office suite. And in April 2013, she moved to a job at the Transportation Cabinet, which Hall said was her choice.

The executive secretary position she is now in pays $35,080 a year, according to Kentucky government salary data.

House leaders, though, took to the floor Thursday afternoon in an effort to quell a growing unrest among rank-and-file Democrats angry about the harassing behavior outlined in the complaints.

The House approved a resolution offered by Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, requiring sexual harassment training for lawmakers during their annual mandatory ethics session at the start of each General Assembly. The measure was largely symbolic because this week’s special session is limited to the issue of redistricting only. But lawmakers pledged to pass the resolution again in 2014.

Both Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo and House Democratic Floor Leader Rocky Adkins told Pure Politics on Thursday morning they would support such an effort.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Sannie Overly, D-Paris and the first female Democratic House leader, announced she will sponsor a bill to “maintain the highest level of workplace protection for all of its employees.”

And Stumbo made a lengthy floor speech to answer accusations that top-ranking House Democratic leaders failed to act swiftly when informed of the allegations earlier this year. And he said the House could vote to expel Arnold but that he — and anyone else — deserves “due process.”

But that wasn’t good enough for some, such as Meeks, who was present when Arnold grabbed Costner’s underwear in the 2010 incident. Meeks, according to the complaint, immediately chastised Arnold for the inappropriate action.

Meeks initially praised Stumbo for his “honesty” but said he was “underwhelmed” by the degree to which Stumbo addressed a “culture that may or may not exist here at the capitol that allows that kind of activity to continue unabated.”

Even the notion of requiring sexual harassment prevention training rings hollow, Meeks said.

“I don’t know why someone needs to be trained to be decent to other human beings,” he said.

Adkins, the majority floor leader, said he first learned of the allegations against Arnold in February when Cooper, who works in his office, approached him about it.

Earlier in the day, Adkins told Pure Politics he would suggest an “action team” to review all of the legislative branch’s policies regarding the handling and prevention of sexual harassment.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said Thursday morning he had not yet spoken to House leaders about the allegations against Arnold. He stopped short of calling for Arnold’s ouster. And he said he doesn’t believe there is “a sweeping” situation of inappropriate behavior that politically could cost Democrats the House, which they control 55-45.

(Ryan Alessi contributed to this report.)

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm joined cn|2 in December 2011 as a reporter for Pure Politics. Throughout his career, Nick has covered several big political stories up close, including interviewing President Barack Obama on the campaign trail back in 2008. Nick says he loves being at the forefront of Kentucky politics and working with the brightest journalists in the commonwealth. Follow Nick on Twitter @Nick_Storm. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@twcnews.com.

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Comments

  • Michael Adams wrote on August 22, 2013 10:42 PM :

    So, the Dems are looking to Stumbo to make this right? The same Stumbo who stood by his good friend and roommate (at the time) Kent Downey when Downey filled the LRC with strippers to solicit prostitution for legislators? The same Stumbo who stood by Downey when LRC workers filed complaints about sexual harassment and drinking on the job back when Stumbo was Majority Leader? The same Stumbo who continued to stand by Downey after Downey pleaded guilty to prostitution and gambling charges? The same Stumbo who sued a woman to punish her because she made him pay child support for the child he fathered while cheating on his first wife? Is this proposed sexual harassment training Stumbo’s talking about a How-To-Harass-Without-Getting-Caught guide? What the heck is there train? Just don’t act like a freaking perv! Democratic women, like Alison Lundergan Grimes, need to quit enabling these jerks by continuing to campaign with them.

    Degenerate
    Evasive
    Misogynist
    Scumbags

  • Barbara Ellerbrook wrote on August 23, 2013 07:19 AM :

    At a minimum this person needs to be put on leave and taken away from any possible contact with folks in Frankfort. Unbelievable that the LRC and Stumbo appear to be covering for any kind of abuse let alone abuse that was actually witnessed by another House member.

  • Tim wrote on August 23, 2013 09:10 AM :

    Agree with Michael. Stumbo and the House leadership gave this guy $40,000 to get him re-elected, knowing he was a predator. And it’s interesting how Stumbo’s story has changed. On the day this broke, he had heard only rumors. Yesterday, he pulls out a timeline to show how well he and his office managed the complaints. What is it Speaker? Did you know or didn’t you? If you did, you need to resign too. Of course, that would require shame, and you clearly lack that.

  • sam pierce wrote on August 23, 2013 10:46 AM :

    The actions of John Arnold and the responses of the House Democrat leadership sicken me. Arnold’s criminal behavior has been going on for years and Stumbo steered $40,000 to his 2012 reelection to help him beat Tim Kline by 5 votes. Now, according to Counter Point, Stumbo has redistricted Tim Kline out of House District 7 and has decided to allow any special elections to be held in the new districts so that Tim Kline cannot move in time to run in a special election if Arnold resigns or is forced out. The timing reeks of a Democrat leadership conspiracy. Rank and file Democrats such as Reginald Meeks and Tom Riner should revolt against Stumbo and Adkins. Stumbo and Adkins need to be ousted. Stumbo lives in Lexington, not in Floyd County. Why is he even allowed to serve in the house much less be speaker. We all need to stand up to this bully. His redistricting plan needs to be thrown out along with his own expulsion and arrest. Stumbo, Adkins, and Arnold can all be residents of the Elliott County prison.

  • Bruce Layne wrote on August 23, 2013 10:52 AM :

    The sad lesson in this sad story is that complaining about sexual harassment in the Kentucky legislature is pointless. The well founded and credible allegations go back at least to 2009. The complaints were taken through multiple channels over those years, plenty of people knew and were in a position to correct the sexual harassment, but didn’t. Apparently, the only way to stop the sexual harassment is for women to make a public complaint. There is obviously no functional process to correct this crime without the victims being publicly humiliated, adding insult to their injuries. They repeatedly tried, and it didn’t happen.

    And these are our elected leaders?

    And for those who enjoy surprising historical connections…. New laws are usually added to criminalize some bad behavior. In the mid 1800s, Kentucky enacted a law prohibiting the concealed carry of deadly weapons. This was prompted because one Kentucky legislator got into an argument with another and stabbed him with a cane sword (a concealed deadly weapon). Look for new sexual harassment legislation in 2014 to protect us from our legislators.

    Our system of representative government was designed based on the principle that the cream rises. Unfortunately, we’re now seeing that a layer of scum forms on top of the cream.

  • sam pierce wrote on August 23, 2013 11:31 AM :

    The fact that Tom Riner brought this to the attention of the house peaked my curiosity. Is this the same Tom Riner that was at Centre College when I was there in the late 1960’s. His biography on his legislative page merely says “Pastor”. I googled him and found that he is the same Tom Riner who was a leader of the College Republicans at Centre in 1967. I believe Tom was two years ahead of me. I remember riding on the back of Tom’s motorcycle on the very cold morning of November 7, 1967, when he drove me to the polling place where I worked as a Republican ballot security official. The bike ride was one of the coldest experiences I have ever had. I thought I would freeze before we made it to the polling place. Tom would always wear tennis shoes even if he was in a coat and tie. I never thought that he would become a Democrat and help to enable people such as Greg Stumbo. I do remember Tom as a man of principle. I suppose he became a Democrat because he had political ambitions and the district where he lives is so heavily Democrat. I am happy that Tom Riner was the one who made the speech against John Arnold on the house floor. Tom, we did our jobs in 1967 and Louis Nunn was elected governor. I just wish you could have found a home after graduation where you could have been elected as a Republican.

  • Cumberland Gap wrote on August 23, 2013 12:34 PM :

    I think Riner became a Democrat because he wanted to help the little people, instead of the top 1%. Rep. Meeks said he saw the conservative western Ky lawmaker John Arnold slap a sister’s butt. If Meeks saw this happen in 2010 is there a record of his complaint to LRC manager Robert Sherman? If not, is he in trouble for not reporting it? I don’t see how this could be a “culture” unless they find many more people other than one pervert in a body of 138 lawmakers. Shame be on the Arnold dude for his actions! Training should be required.

  • Cat Balz wrote on August 23, 2013 12:43 PM :

    Great timing for Allison Lundergan Grimes’ War on Women campaign, ain’t it?

  • Cumberland Gap wrote on August 23, 2013 04:40 PM :

    Cat, it is not a political party issue. Both sides have sinned like this in different states and different times. The voters know that. Grimes doesn’t control the conservative lawmaker from Western Ky who is named as the perv.

  • Two Cents wrote on August 24, 2013 08:32 AM :

    Enough is enough. Democrat or Republican. This “culture” cannot be accepted any longer and it is up to the Kentucky voters to make the changes. Quit going to the polls and voting for these same people, no matter how much they may pay you or may promise you. They never stand by their promises anyway. Quit listening to their B.S.! Sexual harassment is wrong; love affairs on the job are wrong; and creating positions for the “subjects” is wrong, well creating positions for anyone is wrong specifically if he or she may not be qualified, which is most always the case. Vote them out! And if they try to bribe you, take the money and vote the other way if you’re going stoop that low. (BTW, it’s illegal.) We pay their salaries. Get smart, Kentucky voters!

  • Dee W. wrote on August 24, 2013 06:19 PM :

    “I think Riner became a Democrat because he wanted to help the little people, instead of the top 1%. “

    LOL – what a bunch of baloney. Democrats don’t help the little people – they work to create more of them and then make them even smaller. All of the policies they pass are corporatist – Obamacare being a shining example.

  • Cumberland Gap wrote on August 27, 2013 05:26 PM :

    Obamacare is corporatist? I thought it socialist? But the socialist party says Obama is nothing like what they are calling for. This is beginning to look like a circle! Maybe Pres. Obama was born near the Jefferson Davis monument in Rand Paul’s back yard! He is not a citizen since it was loyal rebel territory there in western KY.

What do you have to say?





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