Jeff Hoover resigns as House speaker after acknowledging settlement of sexual harassment claim, will continue to serve in General Assembly

11/05/2017 05:35 PM

An emotional Jeff Hoover resigned as speaker of Kentucky’s House of Representatives on Sunday, offering the first details of a sexual harassment settlement that ultimately upended his leadership role in the House GOP.

Hoover, a Jamestown Republican who became the first GOP speaker in nearly a century during this year’s legislative session, said while he will relinquish the speaker’s gavel, he will continue to represent the 83rd House District in the lower chamber.

House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, announced Sunday that he would assume operational duties of speaker.

Hoover, who did not take questions after his statement, said he received a letter from an attorney representing someone “making allegations — let me repeat, allegations — against me and others for sexual harassment” on Oct. 17 and that the lawyer sought a resolution outside of court. Attorneys for both sides set up mediation days later, and a deal was struck after they met, he said.

The Courier Journal first reported that the settlement was reached with a legislative staffer. Others accused of sexual harassment, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader and others, were Republican Reps. Jim DeCesare, Brian Linder and Michael Meredith.

“None of the parties against whom the allegations were made admitted any wrongdoing,” Hoover said. “In fact, all of those individuals, including myself, absolutely and expressly denied that any sexual harassment had taken place.”

“I did make mistakes in that I engaged in inappropriate text messages,” he continued. “I engaged in banter that was consensual, but yet, no mistake, it was wrong on my part to do that, and for that, I am truly sorry.”

However, he said that relationship between he and the accuser never went beyond consensual and inappropriate messages.

“At no time did I engage in unwelcome or unwanted conduct of any kind, and at no time were there ever any sexual relations of any kind,” Hoover said, adding that he has been forgiven by God, his wife and his daughters.

Hoover’s decision comes a day after Gov. Matt Bevin called for “the immediate resignation of every individual who has settled a sexual harassment case,” and at times the former House speaker seemed to offer shots at the governor, whom he accused of “grandstanding” in a Capitol news conference Saturday.

“In light of what has been said and transpired in the past day, I have concluded that there is no question that moving forward in the 2018 session will be difficult,” Hoover said. “I have been convicted of sexual harassment by some without knowing all of the facts, without an opportunity to even defend against ‘allegations,’ and I’ve been convicted by some without any grasp or understanding or appreciation for the law, which unfortunately has been exhibited all too often in the past couple of years.

“As we move toward the 2018 session, I do not want the story to be about me versus someone else. I’m not afraid of that battle. I would welcome that battle, but again, it’s not about me.”

Hoover noted that he had been vocal in his opposition to aspects of the recently unveiled pension reform proposal that had been set for consideration in a special session later this year.

Although he did not name Bevin, Hoover said he spoke out against comments insinuating that teachers hoarded their sick time and that he voiced his displeasure in statements during a Louisville radio interview that he believed violated confidential discussions on the pension reform proposal that had yet to be unveiled.

“When I objected, I was told that I was ‘disrespectful’ and it was insulting, I was told,” Hoover said. “There are other examples, but it’s fair to say I am not the favored legislator of some in this Capitol.”

Bevin’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hoover’s decision to step down.

Hoover says he leaves office with animosity toward none, “not even those who have been working and conspiring for months for this result nor against those who have used this as an opportunity for personal, selfish, political gain.”

Osborne, House Minority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell, House Majority Whip Kevin Bratcher and House Majority Caucus Chair David Meade thanked Hoover for his service as speaker in a joint statement and said their independent investigation into the allegations announced on Saturday would continue.

The three others named will be removed as committee chairmen pending the investigation’s outcome, they said.

“What we have seen in the press and on social media is troubling and must be thoroughly investigated,” House GOP leadership said in the statement.

“We do not condone sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior among House members and staff persons, and it is imperative we find the whole truth. We are beyond disappointed that we were kept in the dark about these troubling issues, but we are committed to separating facts from rumors and providing a full report to the public.”

Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Mac Brown called Hoover’s decision “appropriate” and said he supports the independent inquiry into the matter.

“While it was personally difficult for him, stepping down allows the rest of the House Republican Leadership to move forward with the business of the Commonwealth,” Brown said of Hoover.

“Our remaining House leadership recognizes the importance of holding themselves to a higher standard. I want to applaud the work done by House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell, Majority Whip Kevin Bratcher and Majority Caucus Chair David Meade during this difficult time. They have the full faith of the Republican Party of Kentucky as they move the caucus forward from this difficult situation.”

Kentucky Democratic Party Executive Director Mary Nishimuta, however, accused Hoover and Bevin of attempting “to wield their power and maneuver for their own political agendas during this sexual harassment case, while at least two female victims, and possibly more, are disregarded in their wake.”

“While Rep. Hoover’s career as House speaker ends today, Kentuckians should consider it both vulgar and obscene that Gov. Bevin would speak out against sexual harassment when it’s politically convenient for him, but yet refused to hold the president of the United States to the same standard,” Nishimuta said in a statement. “This isn’t leadership, this is an abuse of power.”

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