Likely Democratic Senate nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes said Wednesday she was disappointed that former state Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, won't be punished by a state ethics panel for his alleged sexual harassment of three legislative aides.
After refusing Tuesday night to take questions about Arnold from reporters for the Herald-Leader and cn|2 Pure Politics, Grimes released a statement Wednesday that said she is glad Arnold resigned last September.
The Legislative Ethics Commission fell one vote short of punishing Arnold Tuesday. The deciding vote was cast by Elmer George, who has contributed $5,200 to Grimes' campaign and was appointed to the commission in January by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who has played a major role at several campaign events for Grimes.
"As I have always said, I will never tolerate discrimination or workplace harassment," Grimes said in her statement. "Though I am disappointed in yesterday's decision, I am glad that the representative resigned. Protecting women from violence and harassment is personal to me. As secretary of state, I led the effort to shield domestic-violence victims, and my support for Kentucky women is unmatched in this race. I am the only candidate for U.S. Senate who supports the Violence Against Women Act, equal pay for equal work, and raising the minimum wage."
When the Arnold scandal erupted last summer, the only statewide elected Democrat to call for his resignation was state Auditor Adam Edelen.
Grimes, who declined to call for Arnold's resignation at the time, did accept a $250 campaign contribution from Arnold last year, according to her last fundraising report.
When asked Wednesday whether Grimes planned to return the contributions from either Arnold or George, Grimes campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton declined to answer, instead asking whether Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell planned to return money he has received from controversial figures.
"Will the McConnell campaign be returning the $2,500 they received from Haley Barbour, who pardoned over 40 sex offenders or child molesters?" Norton asked in an email. "Or will they return the tens of thousands of dollars from a radical fundraising host who claimed women are not programmed to have a career?"
Norton was referring to Dennis Prager, a conservative author and talk-radio host, who hosted a fundraiser for McConnell last month and has made a number of controversial statements about women's roles in society and marriage.
Later Wednesday, the Grimes campaign said in a news release that Grimes had spoken by telephone with two of the women who alleged sexual harassment by Arnold, asking them if her campaign should return contributions from Arnold and George.
"They unanimously expressed that they want the campaign to 'keep it and fight' for the issues important to the women of Kentucky," the news release said. "They added, 'We don't want to be pawns in the political game.'"
McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore had released a statement earlier Wednesday accusing Grimes of "stunning hypocrisy on women's issues."
"Alison Lundergan Grimes not only solicited campaign contributions from the individual who sexually harassed women who work in her building, she solicited campaign contributions from the man appointed to make it all go away," Moore said. "When the victims of this egregious sexual harassment needed an advocate most, Alison Lundergan Grimes opted to protect the old boys' club backing her campaign and send her sterile condolences via press release."
Grimes spoke at a Fayette County Democratic Party dinner Tuesday night, hours after the ethics panel made its decision, telling the crowd that McConnell has "yesterday's view of women."
She then worked the crowd at the downtown Hilton and left, refusing to speak with reporters about the decision. Norton said the candidate had to "get home," which is less than a mile from where the dinner was held.
Earlier Tuesday, Grimes joined national Democrats in pushing for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act on what Democrats termed Equal Pay Day.
Meanwhile, the Legislative Ethics Commission voted 4-1 to punish Arnold for allegedly abusing his position as a public official, but five votes are needed to approve an action by the nine-member commission. George voted no, saying he didn't think the commission had the authority to punish someone who was no longer a member of the General Assembly. Three other commission members were absent, and one seat is vacant.
Two of the alleged victims, Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner, said the commission's decision appeared political.
After an event in Northern Kentucky in February, the Herald-Leader asked Grimes whether she wished, given the importance she has placed on "standing up for Kentucky women" in her campaign, that she had handled the Arnold scandal differently.
"Listen, I have been a champion, will continue to be a champion for the women of this state," Grimes said.
She continued: "This campaign will continue to be about making sure they have a champion and not just a chatterbox, and it's proof in terms of the first thing that I'll put my name to, the last thing that Sen. McConnell says he'll put his name to, is an increase in the minimum wage and working to make sure we're closing the pay-equity gap."
A spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Kentucky issued a statement Tuesday afternoon that said Grimes "only likes to talk about standing up for Kentucky women when it's politically convenient for her."
"It is absolutely mind-blowing that the candidate running her campaign on women's issues can't manage to publicly stand up for three real women, who work in her building, who were victims of sexual harassment," Republican Party of Kentucky spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper said. "Actions speak louder than words, and Alison Lundergan Grimes' actions are evidence of her flagrant prioritization of political loyalties over Kentucky women."
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.