Rep. Riner: John Arnold close to resigning; Changes in LRC leadership and House 'good-ol'-boy' culture needed

08/28/2013 06:55 PM

Representative John Arnold, the Union County Democrat at the center of a firestorm over sexual harassment allegations, is expected to resign “very soon,” said Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville.

Riner, who backed the three legislative staffers who brought the allegations against Arnold, said he spoke Wednesday with House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who indicated Arnold is close to resigning.

“He is in agreement with me that that would be the best outcome,” Riner said (0:20 of the interview). “And we believe that may happen very soon.”

One reason Riner said, is that Arnold hasn’t denied the accusations and was “truthful” in his interview with LRC investigators in February.

“He might be very rude and crude to some of the women, but I don’t think he’s a liar,” Riner said (at 1:00). “I think he will tell the truth. And I think the truth is that he’s not able to say that these things didn’t happen.” Riner went on to outline how Arnold’s behavior extended to a female lawmaker and has been witnessed by other legislators and staffers.

Three legislative staff members have filed complaints with the Legislative Research Commission alleging that between 2010 and the spring of 2013, Arnold made inappropriate comments and touched them inappropriately, including grabbing one staff member’s underwear and slapping another on the buttocks.

Stumbo did not immediately respond to a request for comment left with his communications director on Wednesday.

And a man answering the phone at Arnold’s home in Sturgis on Wednesday evening said Arnold was unavailable. Arnold, who hasn’t addressed the allegations publicly, didn’t return to the General Assembly last Thursday or Friday as the special session ended.

Riner, in his interview with Pure Politics, also criticized the Legislative Research Commission’s handling of the staffers’ complaints, saying “too many games have been played, too much obstruction.” (7:00) He called for personnel and organization changes in the LRC but stopped short of specifically calling for any individual’s resignation, including that of LRC Director Bobby Sherman.

LRC could not protect those women. As much as they said and did — and they did speak with Arnold many times — they were unable to protect them,” Riner said.

Riner discussed much of the background of how he learned about the complaints, and how the LRC and legislators needs to implement a rule explicitly barring legislators from having relationships with staff under their supervision or with lobbyists.

“We need to have House rules that specifically state legislators are not to have personal, romantic relationships with staff members or lobbyists,” Riner said.

Riner said he first learned of the allegations during the 2013 session when he overheard one of the staff members who later brought the complaint talking with “a legislator who had given a really harsh warning to Representative Arnold” when that lawmaker found out about the actions.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Stumbo rebuffed a request by Republican Senate President Robert Stivers to convene a Sept. 4 executive session of the Legislative Research Commission.

Stivers said it was necessary for legislative leaders of both parties in both chambers to review the investigations into the harassment allegations.

“Since lawyers have been retained by the affected women, it is necessary for all members of the LRC to be apprised of what investigations have or have not been undertaken and, if necessary, take corrective action thereof,” Stivers said in the statement. “We have declined to meet privately with any persons involved and feel that it should be the function of the LRC in an executive session to see that there is indeed an independent investigation of the matters.”

But Stumbo said in a statement that the legislative leaders “need to allow the process to work without interference.”

“The LRC Director has already been instructed to provide a formal report under the conclusion of the investigation,” Stumbo said in a statement. “Legislative involvement and discussion should wait until all the facts have been determined and all parties involved have been made aware of the findings. At that point, it will be appropriate to decide what further review is warranted.”

Riner also criticized House Democratic leaders for what he described as delaying tactics to prevent his resolution in support of the female staffers from reaching the House floor Friday. Overall, he characterized the approach leaders have had as “deliberate.”

“I think they’ve taken a more studied approach, trying to figure out what would be the best thing legally to do, rather than just hitting him with an emotional barrage,” he said.

But he said he hopes the publicity of these incidents can have a long-term effect for the better.

“One of the best things that could come out of this is for women throughout the state who have been mistreated in the workforce and on college campuses and other schools to understand it helps everyone when they come out and report,” he said. “It helps the next generation of females who are going to be abused if someone doesn’t take a stand.”

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