Hoover resigns from position of House Speaker amid sexual harassment scandal

Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown

State Rep. Jeff Hoover resigned from his position as House Speaker at a press conference Sunday afternoon, a day after Gov. Matt Bevin called for the resignation of Republican House members who had been named as part of an alleged sexual harassment scandal in Frankfort.

While Hoover is stepping down from the top leadership position in the state House and admitted to inappropriate text messages and “banter,” he stated that he would not resign from his District 83 seat and asserted that he was not guilty of sexual harassment.

Hoover’s troubles began when the Louisville Courier Journal reported on Wednesday that he agreed to a settlement with a female staff member who alleged sexual harassment, in addition to suggestive text messages allegedly between the two. Hoover had declined to comment on the matter, but House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell told reporters Friday that Hoover still had the “full support” of the Republican caucus.

On Saturday morning, Rep. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, called for Hoover to resign and accused him of a coverup in a series of tweets, accusing Hoover and three other Republican House members — Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge; Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland; and Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green — of also being involved in the sexual harassment settlement. Bevin followed up with a press conference that afternoon, calling for all of the legislators involved to resign — though he did not name any — as did eight GOP House members in a letter released later that night.

Hoover fired back at Bevin in a statement released Saturday night, saying that he had no intention of resigning and that Bevin was attempting to convict him without any evidence or speaking to him about the matter. Though Hoover repeated those points in his press conference on Sunday, his voice cracked as he announced that he would step down from his position of House Speaker for the good of his party and the state, stating that his conflict with the governor had become a distraction.

Hoover said that he received a letter from the attorney of the former staffer on Oct. 17, requesting a meeting with a mediator, which eventually happened and led to the confidential settlement agreed to by all parties involved. He added that “none of the parties against whom the allegations were made admitted any wrongdoing. In fact, all of those individuals, including myself, absolutely and expressly denied that any sexual harassment had taken place.”

However, Hoover said he “did make mistakes, in that I engaged in inappropriate text messages. I engaged in banter that was consensual, yet make no mistake, it was wrong on my part to do that. And for that, I am truly sorry.”

While apologizing for those texts, Hoover reiterated that “at no time did I engage in unwelcome or unwanted conduct” or “sexual relations of any kind.” He added that “there has never been a culture of sexual harassment, as some opportunists would wrongly claim now for their own personal political gain.”

“My Twitter bio says that ‘I am a sinner saved by God’s grace,'” said Hoover. “And I am. That is me, even though some media reports have made light of my faith and this statement in their reporting. However, we are at a point that this is more than being about Jeff Hoover.”

As recently as Thursday, Hoover said that Bevin’s proposed pension bill would have to face amendments before he could support it and it could pass the House. Without mentioning Bevin by name, Hoover in his remarks Sunday referenced his criticism of the governor at various points during the debate of public pension reform in recent months, and how he was chastised for that. He added that “it is fair to say I am not the favorite legislator of some in this Capitol, nor have I ever been, quite honestly.”

“I have been convicted of sexual harassment by some without knowing all the facts, without an opportunity to even defend against allegations, and convicted by some without any grasp or understanding or appreciation for the law,” said Hoover. “As we move toward the 2018 session, I do not want the story to always be about me versus someone else. I am not afraid of that battle, but it is how it will be portrayed. That is not fair to the people of this state, nor is it fair to my caucus members. It is not fair to the process that I have worked so hard to improve. And that is not conducive to getting problems solved and addressing issues facing us.”

After announcing that he would step down as speaker, Hoover said he leaves “with no animosity toward anyone — not even those who have been working and conspiring for months for this result, nor those who have used this as an opportunity for political gain. My action today is because I love the Commonwealth of Kentucky and its people. I appreciate all those who have offered support and prayers. I am blessed.”

Rep. David Osborne of Louisville will now take over the top position in the state House, issuing a statement after Hoover’s remarks assuring Kentuckians that “the House will continue to function and do the people’s business. We cannot be distracted from our work, even as an investigation into the troubling reports continues. I will continue to work closely with Governor Bevin and Senate President Stivers as we seek a solution to our pension crisis.”

In a joint statement from the remaining GOP leadership in the House, they indicated that those members implicated in the scandal would be removed from their roles chairing committees, pending the outcome of the independent investigation that was initiated on Saturday.

“This is an unfolding situation and no one in the capitol has all the facts,” read the joint statement of House GOP leadership. “We are asking any member of the House Republican caucus who is or believes they will be implicated in this matter to inform this leadership team immediately if their name has not already surfaced in the public domain. We were blindsided but remain determined to get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible. We thank Jeff Hoover for his service as Speaker and for agreeing to resign. A protracted fight among the leaders of the Republican Party, entrusted by the voters to govern this state, is not in the best interest of our Commonwealth.”

Mac Brown, chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky, issued a statement saying there is “no place for sexual harassment in any workplace, much less in our State Capitol. Today’s decision by Speaker Hoover to step down was appropriate. While it was personally difficult for him, stepping down allows the rest of the House Republican Leadership to move forward with the business of the Commonwealth.”

While Bevin has produced a sweeping bill to change the state’s public pension system and has indicated that he wants it to be passed in a special session of the Kentucky General Assembly this fall, he has not yet called for that session. As of Sunday evening, it is unclear whether he will push forward with a special session or push the matter of to next year’s session, which begins in January.