House Speaker Jeff Hoover did not resign.
In a formal “letter of empowerment” submitted Tuesday to the House of Representatives, Hoover granted House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, the authority to preside over the 60-workday legislative session until the Legislative Ethics Commission concludes its investigation of allegations that Hoover sexually harassed a legislative staffer and then signed a secret settlement to conceal the action.
“According to the memorandum that was filed with the House, Jeff Hoover is still the Speaker of the House,” Osborne said after he presided over the opening day of the 2018 legislative session.
Hoover, R-Jamestown, still holds considerable power as a member of the rules committee, which determines which bills are heard on the House floor, and the committee on committees, which assigns each bill to a committee.
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Osborne would not say if Hoover remains involved in House Republican leadership meetings.
“I’m not going to talk about our internal meetings,” Osborne said.
Hoover announced his intention to resign as speaker on Nov. 5 after acknowledging that he and three other Republican lawmakers had secretly settled a sexual harassment claim with a legislative staffer.
“Almost immediately, I began hearing from members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats, as well as business leaders, political leaders and others across the commonwealth, encouraging me to reconsider my decision to resign,” Hoover said Tuesday in a written statement. “As I consider the best course forward, and in light of the two pending issues before the Legislative Ethics Commission, I have asked Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne to serve, as the Rules of the House of Representatives provides, as the presiding officer until further notice.”
The Republican caucus was split over Hoover’s decision not to step down.
“I thought it was an insult to every woman and clear-thinking person in this state,” said Rep. Phil Moffett, R-Louisville.
Moffett was one of eight Republican members of the House who signed a letter calling on Hoover to resign from office in November. Another of those lawmakers, Rep. Stan Lee of Lexington, said Hoover’s decision to stay on as speaker was disappointing and shocking.
Rep. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, pre-filed a resolution to expel Hoover from the House, but it did not get heard Tuesday.
“It makes me sick,” Morgan said about Hoover’s decision to remain speaker. “I think the procedures were orchestrated to protect Hoover.”
But Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said he thinks Hoover is truly stepping aside.
“I take Speaker Hoover’s letter at face value,” Nemes said. “I believe he’s operating in good faith and I believe Speaker Pro Tem Osborne and the Republican members of the House are moving forward in good faith and will take appropriate action when the commission returns its investigative report.”
Some of the feelings about Hoover boiled over into a debate about a new set of operating rules for the House. Several Democrats accused Republicans of using rule changes to avoid a controversial vote over whether Hoover should be removed as speaker or expelled from the House.
“This rule change means that the gentleman from Russell will remain as Speaker and we have all voted yes, or not, at a point when our body needs to actually debate that,” said Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington.
Democrats raised questions about a provision in the rules that creates a six-member panel, consisting of three Democrats and three Republicans appointed by their party’s floor leader, to investigate claims that a member should be expelled for his or her conduct. Any tied votes would be broken by the chairman of the State Government Committee, who is currently a Republican.
“I know many of us would like to avoid making that hard vote, holding one of our own accountable for their own behavior,” said Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville. “But let me tell you: folks from the 44th District did not send me up here to avoid my responsibilities.”
House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, said the new rule creates due process in the state’s ill-defined expulsion procedure, which has never been used. Prior to the rules going into effect, any member could bring a motion to expel a member from the House. If the motion passed by a two-thirds majority, the member would be expelled.
The House passed the rules changes on a 64 to 26 vote. Hoover did not vote and was not in the chamber during the debate.
The sexual harassment scandal hung like a dark cloud over the legislature’s opening day, including a vote on a new chief clerk for the House. On New Year’s Day, former Chief Clerk Brad Metcalf was fired .
Metcalf, who was chief of staff for Hoover in 2016, was made chief clerk after Republicans won a majority in the House in 2017. As chief of staff, Metcalf hired Communications Director Daisy Olivo, who has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against House Republicans and the Legislative Research Commission for allegedly retaliating against her for reporting a “toxic” work environment.
Osborne said he would not comment on personnel matters. Metcalf was replaced Tuesday by Melissa Bybee-Fields.
The House also held a moment of silence to remember former state Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Mt. Washington, who committed suicide in December after denying allegations that he molested a 17-year-old girl.