Jeff Hoover resigned his post as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives Sunday, a day after defiantly rejecting calls to step down by Gov. Matt Bevin and others who said they were disgusted by allegations of sexual harassment against Hoover and three other GOP lawmakers.
A tearful Hoover, with family members looking on, acknowledged that he had “engaged in inappropriate text messages” with a legislative staffer in his office and asked the people of Kentucky “to forgive me for my actions.”
A Jamestown attorney who has been in the House since 1997, Hoover said he never engaged in “unwelcome or unwanted conduct” and “at no time were there ever any sexual relations of any kind.”
Hoover, who was elected in January as the first Republican House speaker since 1921, said that he and the three other lawmakers “absolutely and expressly denied that any sexual harassment had taken place.”
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He said he would stay on as representative of the 83rd House District, which includes Clinton, Cumberland, Russell and part of Pulaski counties.
A joint statement from the other House GOP leaders said House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne of Prospect will assume “operational control” of the House.
The House Republican leadership team said it will meet with legal counsel Monday to assess staff members mentioned in the sexual harassment scandal.
“This is an unfolding situation and no one in the Capitol has all the facts” said the leadership team.
The team also thanked Hoover for his service as speaker and for agreeing to resign.
“A protracted fight among the leaders of the Republican Party, entrusted by the voters to govern this state, is not in the best interest of our commonwealth,” it said.
There was no immediate comment from Bevin.
Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, who represented the legislative staffer who complained against Hoover, confirmed Sunday that she had entered into mediation with Hoover’s attorney and was satisfied with the outcome. He did not elaborate.
The Courier Journal reported Wednesday that Hoover had secretly settled a sexual harassment claim brought against him by a staffer in his office. On Saturday, the Herald-Leader reported that the claim had also alleged harassment by three other lawmakers: Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge; Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland and Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green.
The House GOP leadership team said Sunday the three will be removed from their positions as committee chairs, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
The Herald-Leader also reported Saturday that Daisy Olivo, the communications director for the House Republican caucus, said she was “basically put on paid suspension” for reporting a “toxic” workplace culture.
In a 12-minute news conference Sunday afternoon in the Capitol Annex in which he did not take questions, Hoover said he was stepping down because the allegations against him would distract from solving the state’s problems.
“It’s no longer about Jeff Hoover. It’s about more than that,” he said. “On every battle, I know that’s how you in the media will portray it. Me against someone else… It’s not fair to the people of this state. It’s not fair to my caucus members. It’s not conducive to getting problems solved and addressing issues facing us.
“Therefore I am announcing my resignation as Speaker of the House effective immediately,” Hoover said. “I will continue to work hard everyday. I will speak out when necessary. I leave the speaker’s position with no animosity toward anyone, 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 gain.”
Hoover did not say who he thinks has been conspiring against him, but he did criticize Bevin without naming the Republican governor. On Saturday, Bevin called for “the immediate resignation of every individual who has settled a sexual harassment case, who is a party to trying to hide this type of behavior.”
“We have many issues facing this state not the least of which is the pension crisis,” Hoover said. “During the past few weeks I have spoken out when I have disagreed with the rhetoric and the condescending attitude coming from some. I spoke out proudly in support of my wife who has been a teacher for 25 years and other teachers around this state.”
“When I objected I was told that I was ‘disrespectful,’” Hoover said. “It is fair to say that I am not the favored legislator of some in this Capitol.”
Hoover, though, said he was wrong to send inappropriate text messages to a staffer.
“Make no mistake it was wrong on my part to do that,” he said. “For that, I’m truly sorry.”
Hoover said his wife and three daughters have forgiven him.
In one text message obtained by the Herald-Leader, Hoover appears to ask the staffer to send him a photo of a “black lace g string.”
“As inappropriate as those text messages were, I want to reiterate that at no time did I engage in unwelcome or unwanted conduct of any kind,” Hoover said.
He also rejected the claim that sexual harassment is routinely tolerated within the House Republican caucus.
“There has never been a culture of sexual harassment as some opportunists would wrongly claim now for their personal political gain,” he said.
Kentucky Republican Party Chairman Mac Brown said in a statement that Hoover’s decision to step down was appropriate.
“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.
House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said he respected Hoover’s decision and that House Democrats want to find the truth of the allegations that have been made. He noted that Hoover and he “have had our share of political battles over the years, but I consider him a good friend.”
Kentucky Democratic Party Executive Director Mary Nishimuta issued a statement accusing Hoover and Bevin of trying to promote their own political agendas “while at least two female victims, and possibly more, are disregarded in their wake.”
She said 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.”
“Shame on them and the House GOP members who didn’t have the courage to publicly stand up against these transgressions until they found it suitable for their own ambitions,” Nishimuta said.
Hoover’s resignation as speaker complicates whether Bevin will call a special legislative session this year to make changes to Kentucky’s financially strapped public pension systems.
Larry P. Totten, president of Kentucky Public Retirees, called on Bevin and leading lawmakers “to abandon the idea of a special session and deal with both pension and tax reform during the upcoming regular session.
“Too many extraneous issues exist now and will likely continue into the next several weeks. These need calmer and cooler heads as they tackle the most serious financial crisis we have faced in decades.”