Politics

Kentucky Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover has settled a sexual harassment claim with a staffer according to a report published by the Courier-Journal.

The allegations stem from early 2016, when Hoover was still the minority leader in the House — he became speaker after sweeping Republican victories in House elections last November.

According to the report, which relies on anonymous sources, Hoover last week reached a settlement with a female accuser after receiving a letter making unspecified demands.

Hoover exchanged sexually suggestive text messages and asked the woman to send photos of herself, according to the report. Hoover has not responded to the allegations. Requests to Hoover’s communications director, Daisy Olivo, were directed to the speaker’s policy director Tommy Druen who didn’t return a request for comment.

Political Implications

The allegations come as Gov. Matt Bevin and Republican leaders — including Hoover — are trying to shepherd major changes to the state’s pension systems through the legislature.

Republican lawmakers have shown tentative support for the plan despite growing opposition from state workers and teachers, who say the plan weakens retirement for current and future employees.

But on Tuesday, members of Hoover’s caucus expressed uncertainty about the bill in the wake of the allegations.

Williamstown Republican Rep. Brian Linder said “the votes aren’t here for this bill” and said he wasn’t sure how the allegations would affect the process going forward.

“I haven’t really talked to anybody to gauge anybody’s feelings on it,” said Williamstown Republican Rep. Brian Linder.

“[Hoover has] been a big part of this. I don’t know how this is going to go forward.”

When asked how the allegations would affect the bill’s progress, Louisville Republican Rep. Jerry Miller said he would reserve commenting on Hoover until later.

“I just feel terrible for his family and the young lady involved, but until I know all the facts I can’t comment,” Miller said.

The Allegations

Hoover is a 57-year-old lawyer from Jamestown in Russell County. He has been a member of the House since 1996 and served as the minority leader for 15 years before becoming the first Republican to lead the chamber since 1921.

Rumors of the allegation began to circulate on social media and in Frankfort earlier this week.

A self-described “parody” Twitter account that uses the handle @SpeakerJHoover began posting about the allegations last Friday.

“Why is #familyman @KYHoover trying to conceal details of his sexual harassment settlement? #kypolitics #metoo #YouCanRunButYouCantHide” one tweet said.

The account also posted text message screenshots purporting to be text messages between Hoover and an unnamed recipient.

“Somebody just asked me about those buttons on the side of your dress. I was counting them J,” reads one of the alleged messages from Hoover.

Mary Nishimuta, executive director of the Kentucky Democratic Party criticized Hoover over the allegations.

“Sexual harassment is handled very seriously in the workplace and the speaker’s office in our statehouse should operate on a higher standard,” Nishimuta said.

“This isn’t a political issue but a moral one. We can’t expect to work toward a better future for our state if misogyny is not just accepted but practiced by our lawmakers.”

Tres Watson, communications director for the Republican Party of Kentucky, released the following statement:

“While we condemn sexual harassment in any form, current reports are based on nothing more than anonymous sources and 3rd hand copies of text messages. Consequently, we don’t feel it would be appropriate to comment any further at this time.”

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