Gov. Matt Bevin, making his first public comments on a sexual harassment scandal that has rocked the state House of Representatives, called Saturday 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.”
Bevin, in a hastily called news conference in the Capitol Rotunda, mentioned no one by name. The Republican governor called the allegations serious and reprehensible.
“These alleged actions, which haven’t been denied, are reprehensible, indefensible and unacceptable. Any elected official or state employee who has settled a sexual harassment claim should resign immediately,” Bevin said. “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.”
He added: “You either publicly condemn or you publicly condone this type of behavior.”
Bevin made the public statement after Republican Rep. C. Wesley Morgan of Richmond had called Saturday for the resignation of Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover, accusing him and party leaders of concealing sexual harassment allegations against Hoover and three other Republican legislators.
Also Saturday afternoon, other members of House leadership announced that they are launching an independent investigation of the allegations.
“Because of the allegations and rumors swirling in the media and in the capitol, the majority leadership team of the Kentucky House of Representatives is taking steps to launch an independent investigation so that Members of the House and the general public may know the facts,” House leaders said in a statement. “Because the rumors involve the Speaker of the House, other State Representatives, and members of the House staff, the leadership team concluded that we must find the truth immediately to assure the public that the new Republican majority takes this matter seriously. We are not going to operate on rumor and innuendo; we are going to make decisions based on facts.”
“We have consulted legal counsel and believe that Speaker Pro Tempore Osborne has the authority, under the Rules of the House, to launch an independent investigation. We did not consult Speaker Jeff Hoover when making this decision, but we have since informed him about what we intend to do.”
Rep. Morgan, R-Richmond, said three additional members were accused of sexual harassment in a sexual harassment allegation that Hoover reportedly settled last week: Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge; Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland; and Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green.
Morgan also said House Republican Chief of Staff Ginger Wills was named in the claim for creating a hostile work environment.
The Herald-Leader confirmed all four names with a source who has seen a settlement demand letter that the alleged victim sent to Hoover.
None of the four returned requests for comment Saturday.
In a statement Saturday night, Hoover accused Bevin of “grandstanding” and said he is “more resolved than ever to continue my work as Speaker.” He said he supported the request by other GOP House leaders for an independent review.
In his 7 1/2-minute news conference, Bevin said the resignations he seeks involve both elected officials and state employees.
“The people of Kentucky deserve better than the type of shenanigans that have gone on far too long in this town,” he said.
He said his remarks were “a conversation he had not had hoped to make” but it was necessary.
He noted that he was elected governor two years ago and has tried to “chart a new path” for government.
Bevin took no questions and did not say how the scandal might affect his desire to call a special legislative session this year to make changes in Kentucky’s public retirement systems.
House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said the “individuals who have been proven to have engaged in harassing conduct or anything else improper should do the right thing and resign from their positions.” He said he supported “an independent, objective and full investigation.”
House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, said Friday after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans that Hoover had the “full support” of the caucus at that time.
In their statement on Saturday, House GOP caucus leaders said: “As Majority Leader Shell stated Friday, Speaker Hoover, as of now, has the support of the Republican caucus to remain in his leadership position. However, that support does not supersede the need for a full, independent investigation. And we reserve the right, based on the results of the investigation, to revisit the status of anyone involved, including Speaker Hoover.”
The lawmakers named by Morgan on Saturday are chairmen of committees. DeCesare, who was a member of Republican leadership before the GOP took control of the House of Representatives last November, chairs the Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment; Meredith is chairman of the Committee on Local Government, and Linder co-chairs the Public Pension Oversight Board.
Prior to becoming Hoover’s chief of staff in December, Wills was chief of staff for Auditor Mike Harmon and chief of staff for Congressman James Comer when he served as Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner.
Morgan said on Twitter Saturday that “the Speaker, members of leadership, and some majority staff have conspired to cover up” information surrounding the alleged sexual harassment settlement.
“They have conspired to conceal information regarding sexual harassment claims against not only the Speaker, but three chairmen,” Morgan posted on Twitter.
Republicans have been scrambling to measure the impact of an anonymously sourced report by the Louisville Courier-Journal published Wednesday night that said Hoover reached a settlement with a female staff member who alleged sexual harassment over an extended period. The Courier-Journal detailed several text messages that were allegedly sent by Hoover and the staffer. Those messages were referenced in a demand letter the staffer recently sent to Hoover, according to the newspaper.
Morgan has been outspoken about his disapproval of Hoover’s actions since the scandal broke. When House Majority Leader Shell told reporters Friday that Hoover had “the full support of the caucus,” Morgan was quick to dispel that statement.
Hoover, meanwhile, has said that he will “absolutely not” resign over the allegations.
Morgan also said there are legislative employees who have been threatened with retaliation because they raised concerns about the sexual harassment allegations. Morgan said he has told the FBI about threats made against legislative employees, citing “the Hobbs Act.”
“These individuals have went so far as to threaten whistleblowers with loss of employment and physical intimidation,” Morgan posted.
Morgan said he was “disgusted” with the actions of his party.
“This needs to be cleaned out; we cannot condone cover-ups of illicit activity,” Morgan said.