Sept. 11, 2013 —
The inner workings of the Kentucky General Assembly sometimes resemble a badly-conceived television reality show.
It happened again during last month’s special session on redistricting when not one but three women staff members – all of them African Americans – accused a 69-year-old white male lawmaker of sexual harassment.
Specifically, they said he had made improper physical contact as well as lewd and vulgar comments.
Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, has yet to comment on the allegations. He’s been in the House nearly 20 years. To make matters worse, two of the alleged victims claimed Arnold had been saying and doing inappropriate things to them since 2009 but legislative leaders had never reacted to their complaints.
As a result, two of the women may be suing the General Assembly for damages.
The matter began to resemble a soap opera as LRC Staff Director Bobby Sherman and House Speaker Greg Stumbo took turns giving public assurances that an investigation was being conducted.
In fact, it was revealed that Cheryl Lewis, a woman lawyer from East Kentucky, already had been hired to look into the complaints. She has a background in employment law.
Strangely, Senate President Robert Stivers and other leaders of that chamber seemed to be unaware of those developments. Stivers said he knew nothing of earlier complaints.
Stumbo’s initial response was to encourage the press and others to back off and let the investigation take its course.
A day or so later, he grabbed statewide headlines again with a surprise announcement that he would appoint an eight-member select committee to hear the charges against Arnold.
Kentucky’s constitution says that only the legislature can censure or expel its own members for misconduct.
Another surprise followed two days later when Stumbo disclosed that he had appointed five House members to the investigating committee, instead of eight.
The 16-member Legislative Research Commission, comprised of House and Senate leaders, met last week to discuss the matter.
Stumbo suggested the LRC meet in a public session but Stivers apparently insisted on a private meeting without the press corps.
Interestingly, only one of the investigating committee members has significant legislative experience and both of the women members are relative newcomers to the General Assembly.
The select committee will be expected to gather and evaluate evidence and submit a report to the 2014 session of the General Assembly.
We hope this new, glaring spotlight of public opinion means the “good old boy” system among lawmakers is a thing of the past.
And rightly so.