Responding to reports that Speaker Jeff Hoover and three other House Republicans secretly settled sexual harassment allegations brought by a woman who works on the legislative staff and silenced a female staffer who reported it, Gov. Matt Bevin was clear and unequivocal.
“These alleged actions, which haven’t been denied, are reprehensible, indefensible and unacceptable,” Bevin told reporters Saturday without mentioning names. “Any elected official or state employee who has settled a sexual harassment claim should resign immediately. The people of Kentucky deserve better. We appropriately demand a high level of integrity from our leaders, and will tolerate nothing less in our state.”
Bevin emphasized the point by saying this: “You either publicly condemn or you publicly condone this type of behavior.”
Bevin’s statements added some much-needed moral clarity, both to the scandal that erupted in Frankfort last week and other allegations of sexual harassment by powerful politicians.
Before the governor’s comments, other House Republican leaders said they were unaware of the settlement and had launched an investigation, but that Hoover, “as of now, has the support of the Republican caucus to remain in his leadership position.” Then eight other House Republicans issued a stern statement saying: “Contrary to what has been reported, the Representatives at issue did not have the ‘full’ support of the entire Republican caucus.”
Hoover on Saturday called Bevin’s comments “grandstanding” and said he was “more resolved than ever to continue my work as Speaker.”
But on Sunday afternoon, he said he would immediately step down as speaker while keeping his House seat. An emotional Hoover acknowledged he had “engaged in inappropriate text messages” with a staff member and asked the public “to forgive me for my actions.”
I have to wonder if both Bevin and House Republicans were looking for some damage control by turning on Hoover. Kentucky governors have always wanted to control the General Assembly, especially when their party was running the place. Hoover has resisted some of the governor’s power grabs, and he has expressed wise caution about Bevin’s potentially disastrous plan to overhaul the public employee pension system without a plan to pay off unfunded liabilities.
But when it comes to stopping sexual harassment, the right thing is still the right thing, no matter the reason.
Sexual harassment has been illegal for decades, but men who are rich or powerful enough have found ways to pay off and hush their victims while enablers around them looked the other way. In politics, sexual harassment has been just another weapon of partisan warfare, something to be exploited when it involved the other party and covered up when it involved your party.
That explains, for example, why many of the Republicans who impeached President Bill Clinton for lying about his sexual abuse of a White House intern have looked the other way amid multiple allegations against President Donald Trump, including a recording where he admitted sexually assaulting women.
Bevin is right that sexual harassment and cover-ups by government officials are inappropriate and that the perpetrators should go. This is exactly the attitude that has been lacking in both Democrats and Republicans in recent years amid other such scandals in Frankfort.
Now let’s see if Bevin and his fellow Republicans will have the courage to stand up and say that what’s good for the General Assembly in Frankfort is also good for the White House in Washington.