As the Kentucky legislature tries to dig itself out of another sexual harassment scandal, not a single woman is in a position of leadership.
Not in the House, not in the Senate, not in either political party.
This raises some basic questions:
▪ With no women in the room, how can legislative leaders come up with a plan for investigating or changing a sexist culture?
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▪ Won’t an institution that lacks women in leadership always be plagued by repeat allegations of harassment and sexism?
▪ How can Kentuckians trust the laws and policies enacted by this bastion of white male control?
Women are underrepresented in lawmaking bodies across the country, including Congress, but the shortage of women in Kentucky’s legislature is acute.
And it’s especially noticeable now as House Republicans confront allegations of harassment and hostility toward women staffers in their caucus and leadership offices. Less than four years ago, the shoe was on the other party’s foot. House Democratic leaders were revealed to have long tolerated a lawmaker’s disgraceful groping of women staffers while women employees who complained were punished, all eventually settled at a cost to Kentucky taxpayers of $400,000.
If anything in Kentucky’s Capitol is thoroughly bipartisan, it’s the boorish, degrading behavior by some powerful males toward women.
Women outnumber men in Kentucky’s population, but just 23 of the state’s 138 legislative seats are held by women. That’s 16.7 percent. Nationally, 24.8 percent of state legislative seats are held by women, although that number will increase after all the winners in Tuesday’s elections are sworn in.
Despite the gains, state legislatures, including Kentucky’s, need more women, which means more women must run and win.
The filing period for next year’s elections just opened; the deadline is Jan. 30 to compete in the 2018 Democratic and Republican primaries. Please, Kentucky women, we need you in the legislature.
Meanwhile, House Republican leaders (all male) have engaged a Louisville law firm to advise them in response to the secret sexual harassment settlement reached by former House Speaker Jeff Hoover and three other Republican lawmakers.
Hoover was more or less forced to step down as speaker after eight members of his own party (including two women) demanded resignations of him and anyone, lawmaker or staff, who had been involved in the “underlying conduct” or tried to cover it up. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin also demanded Hoover’s resignation.
Lexington Reps. Robert Benvenuti and Stan Lee were among the eight Republicans who spoke out against Hoover and the secret settlement. Among the important questions they raised is who paid, directly or indirectly, for the settlement with the staffer in Hoover’s office who had threatened to sue.
Details of the settlement and any payments should be made public without delay.
House Speaker Pro-Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, issued a statement Tuesday, saying the “leadership team” was kept in the dark about what had happened but is now “committed to pursuing a fully independent investigation so that all facts may be known.” House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, pointed out that “by definition” it’s not an independent investigation when Republican House members hire someone to investigate Republican House members and cautioned against pursuing that course.
Women of both parties have served in legislative leadership before, though only a very few, and none since Democrat Sannie Overly left House leadership early this year.
If House Republicans want to be taken seriously, their quest for “all facts” will have to be truly independent and led by more than just one gender.