FRANKFORT, KY (CNHI) - Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, remains Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives despite his Nov. 5 announcement that he would step down in the wake of sexual harassment allegations.
When the House convened Tuesday, Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, took the podium, gavel in hand while standing behind a name plate indicating Hoover remains Speaker of the House.
Hoover was on the floor for the roll call but soon left the chamber and didn't return. Later, in a letter read to the House, Hoover asked Osborne "to assume the duties of the chair until further notice."
Hoover wants Osborne to lead the House until the Ethics Commission concludes its investigation into the sexual harassment allegations, at least suggesting Hoover believes that investigation might cast his involvement in a confidential settlement of the sexual harassment claims in a more favorable light.
Prior to the reading of Hoover's letter, Republican leadership pushed through several rule changes which address the unusual situation. The new rules allow leadership to fill vacancies on the important Committee on Committees and Rules Committees; one alters the process for seeking resolutions of expulsion or censure.
The Speaker is a key member of both committees which determine committee and bill assignments and decide the rules by which legislation is debated and voted on.
The new rule regarding resolutions seeking expulsion or censure will require two members to sign the resolution and creates a special committee to hear the charges. Each party would name three members to the committee which would be chaired by the Chairman of the State Government Committee. The chair would vote only in the event of tie among the other six.
Rep. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, previously filed a resolution seeking Hoover's expulsion. Osborne said Tuesday he can still offer that resolution — so long as it complies with the new rules.
Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, said the changes effectively represented a vote on Hoover's position as Speaker. Her colleague, Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, said the rules were simply a way for Republicans "to avoid a hard vote."
"There is an elephant in the room and we all know what that elephant is," Jenkins said, presumably referring to Hoover and the sexual harassment allegations.
But the new rules passed easily — 64-26 — with at least eight Democrats voting for the changes.
Last January, Hoover became the first Republican speaker in 100 years following the Republican takeover of the House in the 2016 elections.
But last fall The Courier-Journal reported that Hoover and three other Republicans in the House — Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green, Brian Linder of Dry Ridge and Michael Meredith of Brownsville — signed a confidential settlement with an unnamed female legislative aide.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin almost immediately called on the four lawmakers to resign and, five days after the published story, Hoover called a Sunday news conference at which he said he'd engaged in "inappropriate text messages" with the aide but had not committed sexual harassment or engaged in a physical relationship.
Nevertheless, Hoover announced he would step down. Osborne and the other three members of House Republican leadership retained a private law firm to investigate the sexual harassment allegations. But the investigators weren't able to secure the cooperation of some of the principals in the controversy and Republicans asked the Ethics Commission to investigate.
But when House Republicans gathered in Frankfort in December to work on changes to a proposed pension reform bill, Osborne announced Hoover's resignation was not official until he formally submitted it to the full House once in session.
In a statement Tuesday, Hoover said at the time of his resignation, "I felt based on the governor's comments it was the best decision for me, as well as for my colleagues in the House of Representatives. My decision was made primarily to protect House members from the intervention of the executive branch into purely legislative matters.
"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 continued.
"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 provide, as the presiding officer until further notice," Hoover said.
Hoover and Bevin haven't always agreed on policy or politics and the controversy over Hoover's status will loom large over a 2018 General Assembly which hopes to pass pension reform and a two-year budget which will likely require significant cuts to many state services and agencies.