A Western Kentucky lawmaker is spearheading an effort to keep Jeff Hoover as speaker of the state House of Representatives in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal.
Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, also said he thinks Republican Gov. Matt Bevin was too hasty in calling for Hoover’s resignation from the legislature.
“There are guys like me in the House who don’t think Jeff Hoover should resign as speaker. Let’s be sure he first gets his due process,” Heath said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
Heath said he has been calling several members of the House’s 64-member majority caucus in the last two weeks to rally behind Hoover to remain as speaker when the 2018 Kentucky General Assembly begins Jan. 2.
Hoover, a Jamestown attorney who has been in the House since 1997, took the position last January as the first Republican House speaker in Kentucky since 1921 after the GOP took control of the 100-member House. But he announced Nov. 5 that he was stepping down as speaker and acknowledged that he had “engaged in inappropriate text messages” with a legislative staffer in his office but never engaged in “unwelcome or unwanted conduct” and “at no time were there ever any sexual relations of any kind.”
Heath would not say exactly how many House Republicans have told him they want Hoover to stay on as speaker, but he said there are several.
“There are some who don’t want Hoover to leave, some who say he should be gone from the House and others who don’t know which way to turn,” said Heath.
“I tell them all that Jeff is the reason we are in the majority. He took much time from his family and business to accomplish that. He admitted to some embarrassing behavior, but he has asked God and his family for forgiveness and has gotten that. He deserves a second chance from his colleagues.”
Heath expressed disappointment that Bevin has called for Hoover’s departure from the legislature as well as any other legislator who has settled a sexual harassment claim. Three other House Republicans involved in the sexual harassment settlement were Brian Linder of Dry Ridge, Michael Meredith of Oakland and Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green. None of the four has resigned from the legislature.
“I’m concerned about the executive branch meddling in the legislative branch. We do have the separation of powers,” Heath said. “Jeff has not gotten a fair shake from the governor.”
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Heath stressed that he has not talked to Hoover about his efforts to keep Hoover as speaker. He also said he has not talked about it to Republican U.S. Rep. James Comer of Tompkinsville, a close friend of Heath and Hoover.
“I’m doing this on my own,” Heath said.
Heath, who works in health building materials, said he is not an attorney, but lawyers have told House Republicans that a House speaker can only be elected every other year and that a speaker has to submit his or her resignation to the full House when it is in session to make it official.
“I believe Jeff technically is still speaker,” Heath said. “We will see what he has to say on Jan. 2, the first day of the session.”
Hoover did not return a phone call for comment.
If Hoover does not officially resign Jan. 2, Heath said, “Either I or someone else in the Republican caucus will stand up and make it known that Jeff Hoover remains our speaker.”
Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said Tuesday while attending the Kentucky Chambers’ Legislative Preview Conference in Lexington, that he wants to wait until the Legislative Ethics Commission finishes its review of the sexual harassment settlement before saying whether Hoover should go or stay as speaker.
Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, said the state Constitution is “murky” on replacing the House speaker but he thinks the best approach is to let House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, “run the show.”
He said that’s what has happened in past cases when speakers vacated the position.
“Of course, the big question now is what is Hoover going to do,” said Koenig.