Kentucky's Republican governor asked his party on Saturday to call for the resignation of four GOP lawmakers who signed a secret sexual harassment settlement, but party leaders rejected it in a move the governor said "speaks to the fact that we've got real problems."
The Republican Party of Kentucky's Central Committee held its regular meeting on Saturday. Party Chairman Mac Brown introduced a resolution that condemned "proven sexual harassment in any form committed by any public servant in the state of Kentucky."
Gov. Matt Bevin tried to amend the resolution so it would also call for the resignation of any lawmaker who paid to settle a sexual harassment claim. Four Republican lawmakers settled such a claim in October. But Bevin's amendment failed by a vote of 48-38.
"It was not a proud day for the Republican Party. It speaks to the fact that we've got real problems, including at the highest levels," Bevin said in an interview after the vote. "There were plenty who actually believed even Republicans should not be allowed to sexually harass people, but there are many who think that's OK as long as you are a Republican. That's a problem."
A news release from the Republican Party of Kentucky said the resolution that did pass "strongly" condemns sexual harassment. Party Executive Director Sarah Van Wallaghen said it "sends a strong message that the Republican Party of Kentucky will not condone inappropriate behavior, whether in the halls of the General Assembly or in the workplace of any ordinary Kentuckian."
But Bevin said without calling for resignations, the resolution is "like being against cancer. ... It kind of goes without saying."
Republican state Rep. Bam Carney did not attend the meeting, but posted on his Twitter account that "today was a good day for democracy and the rule of law, while what appears to be a personal agenda going down to defeat."
The vote and Bevin's comments are evidence of the growing rift among Kentucky's majority political party following the revelation that four Republicans secretly settled a sexual harassment claim outside of court with a former member of the House GOP Caucus' staff. The settlement included former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, who resigned his leadership position last month but remains in the Legislature.
Hoover has denied sexual harassment but said he sent inappropriate but consensual text messages. Among the other lawmakers named in the settlement, Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge has publicly apologized. Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green has declined to comment, but told a Bowling Green TV station he has "done nothing to be ashamed of." Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland has not commented.
Friday, acting House Speaker David Osborne asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to use its subpoena power to get a copy of the settlement and to find out whether any part of it was paid for by political donors or lobbyists.
Bevin said some who spoke against his amendment said the party should wait until the ethics commission can finish its investigation before asking for anyone to resign. But Bevin called that argument "an absolute facade," saying the fact that lawmakers agreed to the settlement is all the evidence needed for them to resign.
"It is so black and white ... I don't even see where there is a question here," Bevin said.
Bevin said he draws a distinction between the Kentucky lawmakers who paid money to secretly settle a sexual harassment claim and someone like Alabama Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has steadfastly denied allegations he molested or assaulted children. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others have said they believe the women and Moore should drop out of the race.
"I don't know what Roy Moore did. Roy Moore didn't pay money to anybody to keep them quiet, Roy Moore has not admitted to doing anything," Bevin said. "This is an apple and an orange. I'm talking about what's going on in Kentucky's Legislature.