By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
A select committee of House members will proceed with an investigation into the conduct of one of their former colleagues despite that lawmaker’s resignation Friday.
Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, submitted his resignation to Gov. Steve Beshear on Friday in the wake of allegations by three female employees of the legislature that Arnold touched them improperly or made lewd or vulgar comments to them.
The women — Cassaundra Cooper, Yolanda Costner, and Gloria Morgan — filed sexual harassment complaints against Arnold, 69, with the Legislative Ethics Commission. News of the allegations became public midway during the Aug. 19-23 special session of the General Assembly, prompting Arnold to leave and not return for the final two days of the session.
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, filed a petition to investigate Arnold’s conduct and potentially censure or expel him from the General Assembly. Stumbo appointed a five-member committee — Democrats Rita Smart, Arnold Simpson, and Jeff Donahue and Republicans Robert Benvenuti and Julie Raque Adams — to investigate the charges and report to the full House in January.
At Tuesday’s first official meeting, the committee selected Donahue to chair the committee by a 3-2 vote on party lines. Adams had nominated her fellow Republican, Benvenuti, who at one time worked as Inspector General of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
The committee also agreed to seek outside legal counsel and to proceed with its investigation despite Arnold’s resignation.
The meeting began with Stumbo telling the committee its duty is to protect the integrity of the House, even if Arnold is no longer a member. His resignation, Stumbo said, eliminates the potential for expulsion but the full House may still reprimand Arnold if the investigation produces evidence of his guilt.
“The conduct being investigated was conduct which occurred while he was a member of the General Assembly,” Stumbo said. “I believe you have to move forward, at least toward making a report to the House.”
Benvenuti agreed. He said if the committee fails to act, a legislator could escape responsibility for his actions simply by resigning.
“We shouldn’t allow someone to end an investigation by resignation,” Benvenuti said.
Stumbo told the committee he will approve the hiring of independent counsel or staff but left those decisions to the committee.
After Donahue assumed the chair, he suggested each committee member suggest up to three persons to serve as counsel to the group. The committee then set its first meeting for 1 p.m. on Oct. 9 when it hopes to choose an attorney.
Donahue said after the meeting he isn’t concerned about partisanship, that committee members and the House disapprove of the conduct alleged by the three women and wish to ensure the integrity of the chamber regardless of their party.
But the meeting couldn’t avoid at least an undercurrent of partisanship. Benvenuti and Adams suggested committee actions must be approved by a super-majority of four votes, but the three Democrats voted to require a simple majority of three votes.
Democrats currently hold a 54-45 majority in the House (with Arnold’s seat now vacant) and Republicans have set their sights on gaining control of the House in the 2014 elections. Some have suggested the allegations of sexual harassment and charges by some Republicans that Democrat leaders didn’t respond effectively to the allegations could play a role in the 2014 campaigns.
Arnold maintained innocence in his resignation letter: “After having been appropriately advised, I do not believe I am guilty of sexual harassment.”
Arnold has retained Steve Downey of Bowling Green as his attorney.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort
By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
- State News
- Ernie Moore
Politics of coal severance
If you want to be governor of Kentucky, especially a Democratic governor, you must look to the hills of eastern Kentucky.
Coal severance funds have gone lots of directions
It was supposed to be different. When Kentucky started sending half of its coal severance taxes back to coal-mining counties, it was supposed to be used for economic development in anticipation of the days when coal would no longer dominate the coal-field economy.
SOAR summit met with wait-and-see attitude
As organizers kicked off a mountain summit here to discuss ways to diversify the eastern Kentucky economy, the dominant sentiment seemed to be a mixture of skepticism and hope.
Rogers: SOAR summit not the end
Its land and people fueled the industrialization of an entire country but that country has largely ignored the ravaged land and the human despair left behind.
Panel moving slowly in sexual harassment probe
A special committee of state House lawmakers who are supposed to recommend action on charges against a former colleague met again Thursday — but it met behind closed doors only to tell reporters afterward its members decided “to move forward.”
Senate Democrat to run for judge-exec in Rowan
The Democratic minority in the Kentucky state Senate might get a bit slimmer as Sen. Walter “Doc” Blevins of Morehead Thursday filed to run for Rowan County Judge/Executive.
Republicans eye House takeover in ‘14
The 2014 U.S. Senate race for the seat now held by Republican Mitch McConnell may be the most important in the nation, but it might be the second-most important election inside the state.
Kentucky Power seeks to withdraw rate increase
Kentucky Power is asking the state Public Service Commission to withdraw its June request for a base rate increase to recover costs associated with its purchase of half interest in a West Virginia power plant.
Matt Bevin makes it official
Matt Bevin, the Louisville investment manager who’s trying to lead a Republican primary insurgency to topple incumbent U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, said Friday those seeking change in the Washington must change who they vote to send there.
- More State News Headlines