Bevin comments on harassment and pensions

FRANKFORT — Appearing on Leland Conway’s News Radio 630 WLAP program Tuesday morning, Gov. Matt Bevin continued to call for the resignation of any lawmaker party to a confidential settlement of sexual harassment claims and, said once again, he still plans to call a special session on pension reform.

His comments come one day after another Republican House legislative aide filed suit, this time claiming retaliation for reporting allegations of sexual harassment against former Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover.

Hoover resigned as Speaker following a story in The Courier-Journal reporting that he, his chief of staff and three other House Republicans signed a confidential agreement to settle claims by another staff aide of sexual harassment. He admitted sending the aide inappropriate test messages but denied any physical relationship.

 Bevin told Conway that the scandal is “a stain on who we are as a commonwealth” and again called for the lawmakers’ resignations.

His comments come only days after the Republican Party of Kentucky declined to approve an amendment Bevin sought to attach to a resolution condemning sexual harassment. Bevin’s amendment would have called for the resignation of anyone who had committed sexual harassment but it was defeated by the party’s Central Committee.

Bevin’s comments also followed, by a day, the pre-filling of a resolution calling on the Republican-controlled House to expel Hoover. The resolution was filed by Rep. C. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, who has been a vocal critic of those accused in the scandal.

Bevin told Conway that Republican House leaders “paid thousands of dollars to a law firm — these are taxpayer dollars mind you — to investigate this and individuals refuse to participate. There’s a lot of duplicity here and it’s a shame.”

The governor didn’t explain that the law firm reported that the complainant and another staff aide — later identified by Hoover as Daisy Olivo who filed Monday’s whistleblower suit — refused to speak to investigators. Three lawmakers — Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, and Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville — did meet with investigators but, according to the report, they declined to share records from their phones or details of the confidential settlement.

Bevin also denied any political motive in calling for the Republican lawmakers’ resignations. Some allies of the House Republicans have suggested Bevin encouraged the complaints because Hoover and House Republicans resisted passage of the proposed pension reform in the face of public outcries by state workers, teachers and retirees.

Bevin called that charge “baloney,” and said he likes the lawmakers personally and previously supported them politically.

“I like these people as persons and I’ve always appreciated them politically,” Bevin said. “I’ve always supported them. I’ve done fundraisers for them.”

Bevin said the lawmakers “have compromised their integrity, their moral authority and their judgment and, as a result, I don’t believe they or anyone who acts similarly should represent the people of Kentucky.”

But he said the controversy won’t deter him from calling a special session to address pension reform.

“No, absolutely not,” Bevin said in response to Conway’s question. “We still have a job to do. But there are some people who want to muddy those waters. The pension crisis doesn’t go away.”

 He said the pension crisis is threatening to lead to yet another downgrading of bonds by credit agencies and the problem must be addressed.

Later Tuesday, House Republicans gathered for their annual retreat. During a break, Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, said he hadn’t heard Bevin’s comments earlier in the day.

Asked whether there is time for a special session, Osborne said, “The window is getting narrower and narrower.”

Majority Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, said the Republican lawmakers continue to discuss the pension bill.

“We’re still working on a bill but we don’t have a bill yet,” he said.

Rank and file members returning to the meeting room after the break said the lawmakers got a brief update on the status of the sexual harassment controversy when they began Tuesday but most of the day had been devoted to policy and pension discussions.