Editorials

Too many unanswered questions about House GOP harassment investigation

Former Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, resigned that post after reports that he and other members of his caucus had reached a secret settlement with a woman who alleged sexual harassment.
Former Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, resigned that post after reports that he and other members of his caucus had reached a secret settlement with a woman who alleged sexual harassment.

The new Republican leadership in the General Assembly moved quickly to launch an investigation following revelations that former Speaker Jeff Hoover and three others from their caucus had secretly settled a sexual-harassment claim brought by a female staffer.

Unfortunately, their secretive, partisan approach raises even more questions and will undermine the findings of the investigation.

Republicans would get more answers and go a long way toward proving a nonpartisan interest in the truth by joining Louisville Democrat Rep. Jim Wayne in asking the Legislative Ethics Commission, which has subpoena power, to investigate the matter.

Although the GOP House leadership calls the investigation they’ve commissioned independent, it’s hard to see how that term applies.

We know that only Republicans were involved in choosing the firm.

But we don’t know, for example, how they chose the Louisville law firm of Middleton Reutlinger to pursue the matter, how much it will cost and who’s paying.

Equally concerning, we don’t know what the law firm has been told to investigate. Is it the prevalence of sexual harassment in the General Assembly, the circumstances that enmeshed Hoover and others in this scandal, or something else?

As of Wednesday, there was no response to an open-records request for correspondence or a contract that could answer these questions.

Whatever the circumstances of its origins, it’s all supposed to be done quickly, with a preliminary report about 10 days after the onset of the investigation, according to House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne.

We do know that Middleton Reutlinger appears to be tied to the wing of the fractured Republican Party aligned with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

A partner in the firm, Rebecca Grady Jennings, who is married to lobbyist and former McConnell aide Patrick Jennings, was nominated to a federal judgeship in September.

There’s little love to lose between Bevin and McConnell. Bevin lost his first political foray, an attempt to unseat McConnell in a bruising, divisive Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2014.

Since Bevin became governor, attorneys at the firm have represented at least two people he has removed from boards: Thomas Elliott, the former chair of the Kentucky Retirement Systems, and Steven Edwards, appointed by Bevin as the Alcoholic Beverage Control commissioner and chairman of that board and then removed by Bevin five months later.

Attorneys and firms do, of course, represent people without endorsing their politics. But Middleton Reutlinger’s ties to McConnell and willingness to challenge Bevin’s action — combined with the rapid and opaque process used to choose it for this task — open the door to questions about the independence and scope of the investigation.

Finally, without subpoena power to compel individuals to testify under oath, the firm is sure to run into significant roadblocks in its inquiry. If House Republicans really want to get to the truth, and use it to change the culture in Frankfort, they should abandon this secretive, compromised effort and join in asking the Legislative Ethics Commission to investigate.

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