Sexual harassment allegations cast dark shadow over House in special session

08/21/2013 09:39 PM

Minutes after the House cleared away one of its most politically rancorous issues by overwhelmingly adopting a new district map, Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, silenced the chamber with a sobering floor speech about the allegations against one of his colleagues.

Riner told the House he encouraged two staff members — and added a third would be coming forward — to file a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Commission against one of his fellow Democratic lawmakers. Earlier that morning, WFPL reported the allegations were against Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, who represents Union County and parts of Henderson and Daviess counties.

The staffers for the Democratic caucus accused Arnold, who turns 69 on Friday, of inappropriately touching them and making inappropriate comments in incidents dating back to 2010.

Arnold remained at his seat in the back of the chamber Wednesday afternoon as Riner addressed the House, which fell eerily quiet. He said that he wants to see reforms, starting with the ability for legislators to get access to harassment complaints. He said he tried to but was denied by the Legislative Research Commission.

“As a legislator, I think we have the right to know information that will help us address issues regarding crime — and that’s what it is. When you hit someone, whether it’s on their buttocks or wherever you hit them, it’s still an assault,” Riner said. “It’s time that each of us take seriously this matter.”

Riner said he encouraged the women to step forward and make the complaint.

“It’s a matter that must be addressed. It’s a matter I don’t like to talk about, but someone has to,” Riner said. “Don’t get mad at them when you find out who they are. Get mad at me. I’m the one who told them when they didn’t want to back during the session.”

The situation could have ramifications far beyond those for Arnold. The complaint, according to WFPL, alleges that members of House leaders were told about Arnold’s behavior and failed to step in.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he “didn’t have any direct knowledge” of the allegations and knew only of “rumors.” Stumbo said LRC Director Bobby Sherman contact him.

Here’s what Stumbo told reporters during a press gaggle after the House adjourned Wednesday afternoon:

Still, the House Democratic Caucus Committee last year gave two checks of $10,000 to Arnold’s re-election campaign on June 1, 2012, and Sept. 18. The state Democratic Party kicked in two checks for $10,000 on June 22 and Oct. 7.

Arnold was one of the Democratic incumbents most in danger of being unseated in last fall’s election and won by just five votes over Republican challenger Tim Kline, a lawyer.

Earlier that spring, Arnold won a primary against Jim Murphy by a vote of 2,528 to 1,899 even though Arnold was barely able to campaign while recovering from heart surgery.

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