Politics
5:43 pm
Thu August 29, 2013

State Lawmakers Point Out Speaker Stumbo's 'Evolving' Position on John Arnold Scandal

Greg Stumbo
Credit Rae Hodge/Kentucky Public Radio

Kentucky lawmakers from both parties are questioning the timing of Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo's decision to begin a process that may lead to the possible censure or removal Rep. John Arnold over sexual harassment allegations.

And Republicans argue Stumbo's decision contradicts earlier statements from the speaker's office that lawmakers shouldn't interfere with an ongoing investigation.

Earlier this week, Stumbo said he disagreed with a call by Republican Senate President Robert Stivers for General Assembly leaders to discuss the Legislative Research Commission's ongoing probe in a closed-door session.

When Stivers called for a Sept. 4 meeting between Senate and House leaders, he said it was to learn more about the status of an LRC probe being led by attorney Cheryl Lewis, who was hired by Stumbo's office.

But the speaker balked at that request Wednesday evening.

And on Thursday afternoon, Stumbo announced the petition and an appointment of a special committee to look into the allegations, which could potentially remove Arnold from office.

"This position is inconsistent but that has been his course of conduct over the last 10 days," says Stivers. "While I applaud the speaker for seeking proportional punishment for the alleged acts, that does not resolve the problem of the legislature’s exposure to threatened litigation and money judgments. It also does not resolve the most significant problem which is how to address the culture that has been exposed by the actions of Rep. Arnold."

(Past coverage of the Arnold ethics case from WFPL and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.)

Part of this week's dueling statements between Stivers and Stumbo is a bit of political gamesmanship and difference in opinion on how to handle the scandal, which surprised lawmakers in the midst of the special legislative session.

But some Democrats appear equally mystified by Stumbo's timing and changing actions.

In an Aug. 29 e-mail sent by state Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville—who allegedly witnessed Arnold inappropriately touching one of Arnold's accusers—asked Stumbo whether the petition against Arnold meant the LRC mediation process has been completed, and for a copy of the formal report.

"I certainly think that Speaker Stumbo is attempting to insure that there is clarity and openness of the process. And as he learns more I choose to interpret (Stumbo's) evolution in this matter as a result of his understanding that things may be worse than he thought they may be," Meeks said in a telephone interview. "And I'm looking forward to getting his response. I believe that he is trying to do the right thing by our legislative body and by these staff employees."

A Stumbo spokesman told WFPL he was unsure about the status of LRC probe, but that it was ongoing to his knowledge.

Republican Party officials meanwhile are pouncing on Stumbo for various statements in reaction to the Arnold controversy. Initially, Stumbo said he had "heard rumors" about the alleged incidents, but later admitted that he knew about the allegations in mid-February.

Last week, Stumbo said that any disciplinary action against Arnold was up to the Legislative Ethics Commission, but today he filed a petition that could potentially remove the Western Kentucky lawmaker from office.

"Speaker Stumbo’s inconsistent statements regarding recent sexual harassment complaints filed by multiple female employees of the Legislative Research Commission—two of whom work in House Democrat Leadership offices—are forcing us to think he’s been less than genuine about his handling of these matters," say Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Steve Robertson.

Related program: