2017-12-20 / Opinions

Some in GOP explore restoring Hoover as Ky. House speaker

By ADAM BEAM
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON

The former Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives who resigned last month after acknowledging he secretly settled a sexual harassment claim could get his job back under a plan crafted by some allies in the state legislature.

Jeff Hoover denied sexual harassment, but said he did send consensual but inappropriate text messages to a woman who worked for the House Republican Caucus. He kept his seat in the legislature.

But since then, lawmakers have said Hoover’s resignation is not official because it has not been accepted by the House, which legally does not exist until they convene on Jan. 2.

That means even though Hoover stood before television cameras last month and tearfully said, “I am announcing my resignation as Speaker of the House effective immediately,” his resignation won’t be official unless he formally submits it to the House next month.

That could provide Hoover an opening to keep his job as speaker. When the legislature convenes on Jan. 2, he could simply not resign.

“I would certainly be supportive of that,” said Rep. Bam Carney, chairman of the House Education Committee.

Hoover did not respond to a Twitter direct message seeking comment Wednesday. But GOP state Rep. Richard Heath has been calling lawmakers trying to build support for the plan.

“I wanted for it to be his decision. I think the ball is in his court now,” Heath said.

House Republican leaders announced earlier this month that David Osborne, the speaker pro tempore, would continue as acting House speaker for the 2018 legislative session. Osborne said he was aware of the effort to bring Hoover back.

“The last conversation I heard from Speaker Hoover was that he was intending on resigning and we are proceeding as if that is the case,” Osborne said. “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.”

Hoover’s resignation came at a time when sexual assault and harassment allegations were toppling men from powerful leadership positions across the country in politics, entertainment and media.

He is frequently cited as a key example of the fallout from the movement seeking to bring attention to inappropriate and abusive workplace behavior. But the scandal has sharply divided Kentucky’s emerging Republican political establishment, which has control of the state legislature and the governor’s office for the first time in state history.

Republican Rep. Wesley Morgan has filed legislation to expel Hoover from the House. And Republican Gov. Matt Bevin formally asked the state Republican Party to adopt a resolution that would have called for Hoover to resign from the legislature.

But in an unusual move, party leaders rejected Bevin’s request.

Some lawmakers indicated they were sympathetic to Hoover, but worried about committing to bringing him back with a pending investigation by the Legislative ethics Commission and a whistleblower lawsuit filed by Daisy Olivo, the House GOP caucus spokeswoman.

“I would like nothing better than to get to a point where I’m a ‘yes’ on that, but ... a lot needs to happen between now and then,” Republican Rep. Adam Koenig said.

There’s also the problem of angering Bevin, the Republican governor who has clashed with Hoover since he stepped down. But Republican Rep. Jason Nemes said that would not be a problem.

“We’re going to work with the governor no matter who our speaker is, but we control our House of Representatives,” said Nemes, who added he is not actively campaigning for Hoover to return. “Separation of powers demands it, and the independence of the body is the most important thing of all.”

If Hoover does come back, it could create chaos in an already fragile political environment. Morgan said he believes a number of Republican lawmakers would walk out if Hoover came back. And Rep. Tim Moore said Hoover resigning would “avoid a storm that could ensue in the House.” That could complicate Hoover’s decision.

“ I know Jeff Hoover well enough; he does not want to distract from the process,” Carney said.

And others worry about the perception of Hoover coming back after privately settling a sexual harassment complaint.

“I’m not sure how that would be perceived, especially in light of trying to get a handle on what ethics reform means,” said Rep. Kim Moser, who is leading a committee charged with developing a formal process for workplace complaints at the legislature.

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