COLUMN: The road to Hooverville has 'lotsa curves'

Updated: Jan. 5, 2018 at 1:32 PM EST
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FRANKFORT, KY (CNHI) - No one rides the little train anymore to this junction on the banks of the Kentucky River.

Still, like the fictional television town of Hooterville, the road to this place has "lotsa curves, you bet; even more when you get; to the junction - Petticoat Junction."

Boys will be boys after all.

And some girls prefer bad boys. Problem is not all girls prefer bad boys and the bad boys don't always recognize the difference.

Frankfort is consumed by the drama and unknown fate of House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, who admitted to sending "consensual but inappropriate text messages" to a legislative aide who subsequently claimed sexual harassment. Hoover and three other Republican lawmakers signed a confidential settlement with the woman which was then publicly reported by The Courier-Journal.

Gov. Matt Bevin, eight Republican House members and Democrats called on Hoover to resign and, initially, that's what he said he would do.

Hoover last year became the first Republican Speaker of the House in 100 years. That gave the GOP control of the governor's office, the state Senate and the House, allowing them to pass a raft of anti-labor, pro-business and pro-life legislation in the first week of last year's session. This year was going to be about public pension reforms and maybe tax reform.

But that was before Frankfort became Hooverville, consumed by the sexual harassment charges and Hoover's decision to reconsider his November announcement he'd step down.

It was before some House Republicans began to suspect Bevin views the legislature's duty to rubber stamp his proposals. Those Republicans tended to share some things: they were loyal to Hoover but most also supported James Comer in the 2015 Republican primary for governor when Bevin slipped past Comer by 83 votes.

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Comer and his supporters still haven't gotten over it. Neither has Bevin. So when Hoover began to stand up for legislative independence, a battle between the House and Bevin became inevitable. And while Hoover appeared with Bevin and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, to tout proposed pension reforms, Hoover insisted his members be given time to talk to their constituents about the legislation before they took a vote.

Constituents weren't happy and the House began to dilute some of the proposed pension changes. When the sexual harassment settlement was revealed, Bevin saw a way to remove the man who stood in his way.

But the number of Hoover supporters, if anything, grew and Hoover decided to try to hang on which became the dominant story line of the first week of the 2018 session. But by Thursday, there were signs a few of Hoover's supporters are having second thoughts.

Hoover has been on the floor each day for roll call, but then he departs. Democrats make a couple of speeches demanding resolution of the controversy and accountability for misbehavior. It's an election year and more Hoover supporters are beginning to worry about the optics of an accused harasser clinging to the Speaker's job while absent from the House proceedings.

Most of these recent doubters still think Hoover was victimized to some degree; some even blame Bevin. They remain outnumbered by those who vigorously back Hoover. But their number may grow as the uncertainty continues and elections loom on the horizon.

There's another group of Hoover loyalists who might rather see the house burn than bow to Bevin. Others — in both parties — worry the controversy may prompt investigation into their own past behavior.

Meanwhile, there's little news about pensions, the budget or tax reform. The filing deadline grows closer.

I don't know how it will end, but I'm pretty sure the road ahead still "has lotsa curves, you bet."

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort

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