TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

State News

December 17, 2013

Lawmakers expect little political fallout from committee’s decision

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

When a House select committee looking into allegations of sexual harassment by a former Democratic lawmaker adjourned without an investigation last week, there were some howls of protest.

But even with control of the House in the balance during the 2014 elections, several House members, Republicans as well as Democrats, say they don’t think the committee’s lack of action will have much political impact.

“I don’t believe it will play a part in individual races,” said Rep. Steve Rudy, R-Paducah. “I just don’t think the actions of an individual legislator are a factor in other members’ races.”

Allegations that former lawmaker John Arnold, D-Sturgis, groped and made lewd comments to three female legislative employees became public during an August special session of the General Assembly. Democratic Speaker Greg Stumbo appointed a five-member committee – three Democrats and two Republicans – to investigate and make a full report to the House when it reconvenes in January.

But Arnold, while maintaining his innocence, resigned and last week the committee, on advice from its attorney, voted along party lines to fold up without further investigation because they were powerless to discipline Arnold once he’d resigned.

The two Republicans on the committee, Julie Racque Adams and Richard Benvenuti, wanted the committee to investigate and issue a full report to the House.

While most lawmakers interviewed for this story see little impact on the 2014 elections, Adams said Monday that’s not her impression.

“The feedback I’ve gotten from constituents and donors is that they’re disturbed by the lack of action by the committee,” Adams said. “I’ve heard from people who think it seems overtly political with the committee wrapping up its work just two days after the special election.”

That special election was to fill Arnold’s seat, which represents Union County and parts of Henderson and Daviess counties. Republican Suzanne Miles won the election by 112 votes, but Rudy said the question of sexual harassment didn’t seem to play a part.

Stumbo said Democrats’ polling also indicated it wasn’t a factor in the special election.

“I don’t think it has any bearing (on the 2014 races),” Stumbo said. “Rep. Arnold’s actions appear to be fairly isolated. A lot of people thought more complaints would be filed but that hasn’t happened.”

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, said Monday there wasn’t much more the committee could do after Arnold resigned.

“I think they did the right thing,” she said. “To have kept working would have wasted taxpayer dollars because the person was already gone.”

She said she doesn’t believe the matter will have much of an effect come November.

But it might not take much of an effect to create a significant change. With Miles’ win, Democrats now control the House 54-46. It would take a net gain of only five seats for Republicans to take over.

John “Bam” Carney, the Republican Whip in the House, said last week that he thinks the races will be driven by pocketbook issues and the general unpopularity of Democratic President Barack Obama in Kentucky along with public fatigue after Democrats have controlled the House for 90 years.

Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, said he thinks if Republicans win control, they’ll do so based on other issues.

“It will not have much effect in my area,” Meredith said. “There are a few who followed it, but they’re mostly the political people, not the average voter.”

One of his colleagues disagreed. Rep. Tommy Turner, R-Somerset, said the public is tired of shenanigans in Frankfort, from allegations of sexual misbehavior to accusations of mismanagement and abuse at the Fish and Wildlife Commission. He said he thinks such stories “will probably help a little” with regard to Republicans’ chances this fall.

“The public doesn’t want us to be different,” Turner said. “They think nobody should be treated differently on account of their position.”

Even with the end of the committee, the controversy isn’t over and it might still have a political impact. Three female legislative employees have filed suit. Other allegations might come to light during depositions or court testimony.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort

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