Kentucky’s governor demanded the resignation of fellow Republican lawmakers accused of quietly settling a sexual harassment claim, saying their actions in the metastasizing scandal were “indefensible” and “reprehensible.”
The controversy adds Kentucky’s legislature to a growing list of institutions struggling under the crush of sexual harassment accusations.
Solving the problem, Gov. Matt Bevin said, begins with the culpable elected officials and government employees giving up their positions.
“These allegations are serious,” Bevin said in a speech outside the statehouse on Saturday. “These allegations are specific. These allegations are reprehensible. These allegations have not been denied by anyone.
“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 . . . They should not be in government employ. They should not be representing the people of Kentucky.”
In Kentucky’s case, the problem has been growing for months. Daisy Olivo, the communications director for the House Republican caucus, said she approached House Speaker Jeff Hoover on Sept. 5 about a female employee who was in “emotional duress” after allegedly being physically and verbally harassed for some time, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The details of the alleged harassment have not been made public by Olivo or lawmakers. The woman involved has not been identified and has not made any statements about the allegations or the settled claim, which was reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal.
What is clear is that the complaints were against some top Republican lawmakers, including Hoover. They also included Reps. Brian Linder (Dry Ridge), Michael Meredith (Oakland) and Jim DeCesare (Bowling Green), according to the Herald-Leader. A complaint was also made against House Republican Caucus Chief of Staff Ginger Wills, who is accused of creating a hostile work environment.
The employee said she was worried about coming back to work because of what she described as a hostile environment. She confided in Olivo, who said she feared for the employee’s well-being and brought the matter up with Hoover, the top lawmaker in the Republican-dominated statehouse.
Olivo said Hoover told her that he would consider the matter. Instead, she told the Herald Leader, “he did nothing.”
The same happened when she approached Wills and House Republican general counsel Laura Hendrix. “They denied that a cultural issue existed,” Olivo said.
At the same time, Olivo says, the legislators also sought to silence her.
“Since I reported this to Jeff Hoover I have become effectively isolated,” Olivo told the Herald-Leader. She said she had been stripped of her primary job: talking to the news media. “We have been shut out of everything.”
While she hasn’t been speaking to the media, Olivo said she has been talking to the FBI, which is apparently investigating the allegations.
A defiant Hoover said he was disappointed that the governor didn’t talk to him before publicly calling for his resignation.
Hoover has no plans to tender it, instead telling the Associated Press that he is “more resolved than ever” to continue in his leadership.
“The governor has yet to ask our side of the story, he and I have not spoken since the story broke, and I did not receive a courtesy call from him before his grandstanding today,” Hoover said. “In effect, the governor seeks to be judge, jury and executioner without hearing the evidence.”
House Republicans said they were still supporting Hoover — for now.
“Speaker Hoover, as of now, has the support of the Republican caucus to remain in his leadership position,” according to a statement attributed to Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, Majority Leader Jonathan Shell, Majority Whip Kevin Bratcher and Majority Caucus Chair David Meade obtained by the Los Angeles Times. “And we reserve the right, based on the results of the investigation, to revisit the status of anyone involved, including Speaker Hoover.”
Women across the world have shared stories about being groped, harassed or even assaulted — in Harvey Weinstein’s office, at the Fox News studios, on the subway, while out with members of the British Parliament. All the stories have similar stock characters: men in positions of power, and women who feel their institutions didn’t do enough to protect them.
In California, Florida, Illinois and Massachusetts, those who work in and around politics have recently come out against the inappropriate culture inside state government, outlined in a report by Politico.
Nearly 150 California women went public in October with details of the inappropriate atmosphere fostered by men holding political power, and more than 200 signed a similar “Say No More” open letter in Illinois.
The Boston Globe recently published the stories of a dozen women who “described a climate of harassment and sexual misconduct” in the Massachusetts State House. In Florida, Politico reported that six women have accused the state Senate budget chairman and gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala of inappropriate touching and comments.
The movement is still nascent, so the ultimate effects of the effort are yet to be seen. But in Kentucky, the governor believes the accused should make a swift exit from their public positions.
“For the sake of themselves, for the sake of their families, for the sake of Kentucky, they should resign, period,” he said Saturday. “For every elected official in Kentucky, you either publicly condemn or you publicly condone this type of behavior, period. These are hallowed halls.”