Politics

Former House Speaker Jeff Hoover has admitted that he violated state ethics rules by exchanging sexually charged text messages with a legislative staffer who used to work for him.

The admission came as part of a settlement approved by the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, which also fined Hoover $1,000 but did not recommend that he be kicked out of the state House of Representatives.

The agreement was made behind closed doors between Hoover’s attorney and the ethics commission prosecutor. The deal means that neither Hoover nor his accuser will testify in the case and that further details about the harassment allegations will remain secret.

After the settlement was approved by all but one member on the commission board, Hoover said he was satisfied with the commission’s ruling.

“It was the best for me, I think it was the best for the former staffer, I think it’s the best for our families and I think it’s best for the process,” Hoover said. “This is a resolution that puts it all behind us and we can all move forward now.”

Last fall, Hoover and three other Republican House members paid $110,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim made by the former staffer.

The secret agreement was first reported by Courier Journal and quickly exploded into a scandal that eventually led to Hoover’s resignation as speaker and deep divisions among the House Republican caucus.

Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne filed a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Commission alleging that Hoover and the other lawmakers had broken ethics rules by allegedly harassing the staffer and secretly settling the case.

The commission voted to dismiss the complaint against the three other lawmakers last week. They are Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green, Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge and Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland.

The commission partly based its decision to fine and reprimand Hoover on copies of flirtatious text messages between Hoover and the former staffer from 2016, when Hoover was still the minority leader of the state House.

The only woman on the 7-member commission was Pat Freibert. She was the only person to vote against the settlement, saying she thought the public would be more accepting if the commission came up with the sanctions.

“I’m not comfortable with two attorneys making the decision,” Freibert said.

Hoover retained his seat in the House of Representatives after he resigned from the speakership and is running unopposed during his re-election campaign this year.

When asked if he would run for speaker again next year, Hoover said it would be up to House Republicans to elect him.

“That’ll be up to them,” Hoover said. “I’m willing to serve the caucus and this state and continue to do that in any way possible.”

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.