FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The political fate of Kentucky’s Republican House speaker will rest in the hands of four women and two men who must decide whether to recommend expelling him, after he signed a secret sexual harassment settlement with a woman in his office.
Eight Republican lawmakers filed formal disciplinary charges against Jeff Hoover on Wednesday, alleging he sexually harassed a woman in his office and then used taxpayer resources to cover it up. They asked a special committee to recommend expelling Hoover from the House.
House rules require the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House to appoint six people to a special committee to investigate. Democrats appointed Reps. Sannie Overly, Joni Jenkins and Chris Harris. Republicans appointed Reps. Donna Mayfield, Diane St. Onge and Jason Petrie.
Republican state Rep. Jerry Miller will chair the committee, but will only vote to break a tie.
Overly, Harris, Petrie and St. Onge are attorneys, chosen for their legal expertise in conducting an investigation. Jenkins, a House member since 1995, has been a longtime advocate for preventing violence against women. Mayfield is retired from the U.S. Marshals.
Overly was House Majority Caucus chairwoman in 2013 when some female state workers sued then-Democratic lawmaker John Arnold, alleging sexual harassment. Overly was scheduled to give a deposition in the case in 2015 while she was a candidate for lieutenant governor. She sought to have that deposition sealed, fearing it would be used against her for political purposes. But the case ended up settling for $400,000 and her deposition was not taken.
Overly did not return a phone call seeking comment. House Democratic Caucus spokesman Brian Wilkerson said none of the Democratic members of the committee would comment.
Hoover told The Associated Press he believes the complaint is motivated by politics. Signers of the complaint include Republican Rep. Phil Moffett, who Hoover said has “wanted to be speaker since he got here.” Hoover has denied sexual harassment allegations, but said he sent inappropriate yet consensual text messages to a woman who once worked for the House Republican Caucus.
Moffett declined to respond to Hoover’s comments, but said “we have a duty and a responsibility to discipline our members.”
In November, Hoover announced he would resign as speaker but keep his seat in the legislature. But Tuesday, Hoover said he was only temporarily stepping aside as speaker “until further notice.”
The settlement signed by Hoover and three other Republican lawmakers was handled outside of court and paid for with private money to avoid publicity. But the Courier Journal exposed the settlement, creating an uproar in a state that was transitioning to Republican rule after decades of dominance by Democrats.
The complaint was signed by Moffett and fellow Republican state Reps. Addia Wuchner, Kim King, Russell Webber, Stan Lee, Robert Benvenuti, Tim Moore and Joe Fischer. It says Hoover sent text messages to the woman requesting photos of her in a “black lace g string,” saying they were “for my eyes only” and promising to delete them.
It also says Hoover created a hostile work environment by using his office to “conduct interviews and intimidate witnesses (who) had knowledge of his illicit relationship.”
Hoover and the other Republican lawmakers who signed the settlement say a confidentiality clause prevents them from discussing it publicly. House GOP leaders have asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to use its subpoena power to determine if lawmakers used money from political donors or registered lobbyists to pay the settlement, which could violate state law.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has previously called for Hoover to step down.
In a speech Thursday night in Lexington, Bevin never mentioned Hoover by name, but addressed the issue indirectly. When discussing his hopes for the new legislative session he said there have been some “distractions.”
“You know what they are,” he said. “We don’t need to reiterate them. But I again would ask of you … expect of us that we will hold a high standard on all fronts. That we will have a high moral standard, high integrity. That we will exercise good judgment. You should expect nothing less of us.”