Wed February 19, 2014
Former Legislative Employee Says Kentucky Senate Republicans Caused Firing
The Kentucky legislative employee who was fired for appearing in an online video supporting Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes says state Senate Republicans were behind his termination.
On Monday, 29-year-old Charles Booker of Louisville was let go as a Legislative Research Commission analyst.
The firing was due to Booker's appearance in a Grimes campaign ad starring his wife and daughter, which criticized Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell's record.
A Grimes campaign official blamed McConnell's allies in the state Senate, which both the McConnell campaign and state Republicans took umbrage with.
In a statement, Booker says LRC officials also informed him the GOP was responsible.
"I can confirm that LRC leadership informed me multiple times that it was Republicans in Senate leadership that complained and caused my termination, because I was in a video supporting my wife and child and saying nice things about Alison Lundergan Grimes. It is disappointing that people would use my support for my family and community as a political game of whack-a-mole. I refuse to be bullied, and if I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would."
A WFPL interview request for Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester and Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, was denied.
"No one in Senate Republic Leadership was involved in this matter in any way. Therefore, there is nothing either of them have to say on the matter," says state Senate Republican caucus spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker. "Our general counsel was made aware of the situation, but he had no involvement either. If Mr. Booker would like to tell us who made these accusations, we would be happy to address it with that party."
The LRC is a non-partisan agency that provides researchers, attorneys and other employee services to state lawmakers.
According to the commission's personnel manual "political activity by non-partisan staff while on duty" is strictly forbidden, but "outside of the workday" it is their prerogative as long as it doesn't hurt their relationship with lawmakers.
From the LRC:
"An employee’s decision on political involvement is his or her own. However, any outside political activity that impairs an employee’s relationship with legislators, lessens the employee’s ability to perform effectively and fairly for all legislators, or lessens the degree of confidence and trust that legislators have in the employee will have a corresponding effect upon the employee’s ability to serve on the LRC staff."
The LRC handbook lists a number of activities it says could negatively effects an employee’s relationship with state lawmakers such as acting as a campaign official for a candidate in a partisan election, publicly opposing or supporting a candidate for the state legislature and making financial contributions or volunteer efforts on behalf of a state legislative candidate.
State Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, who Booker once worked for as an intern, says the LRC made an extreme decision based on its vague rules, adding the policy does not address participating in federal elections. He says he plans to address the policy and Booker's firing on the Senate floor this week.
UPDATE 5:00 p.m.:
In a fiery floor speech, Neal scolded his fellow senators and said if any lawmaker was responsible for Booker’s firing they should be held accountable.
"I'm pretty even keel, nice guy. I support you when I can. Ask for your support and when I don't get it I'm always gracious about it. Well, I’m not gracious now. It’s intolerable! If this body stands here or sits here and does not do something about this, shame on you and everybody in it," he says.
Neal told lawmakers he didn't think Stivers was behind the firing personally. But the Louisiville lawmaker believes Booker's account that someone in the GOP caucus targeted him for being in the Grimes ad, adding the LRC overreacted.
"What I say here today is whoever came out of the shadows with intent to ambush, carrying on a stealth operation to adversely effect this individual’s life and his life’s prospects, shame on you," he says. "And for those in LRC who made a judgment based on nothing, certainly not these rules here. And even if they were these rules and if they did apply there were so many options in terms of what they could've done."