FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Republican speaker of Kentucky's House of Representatives resigned from his leadership position Monday, more than two months after acknowledging he secretly settled a sexual harassment claim and paid to keep it quiet.
As controversy continued to hound him, Jeff Hoover said he was resigning as speaker because he did not want to be a distraction for the House. But he said he would not resign his seat in the legislature.
Hoover's resignation was made on the condition "if accepted by the members of the House." Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne quickly ruled the resignation had been accepted, and ordered it entered into the House journal. He said a vote would only be required if a House member objected, and none did.
Before stepping down, Hoover gave a blistering speech on the House floor that burned as many bridges as it built, accusing Republican Gov. Matt Bevin of spreading lies about him that came from "the deepest pits of Hell." And he vowed to expose the lawmakers and staff members he said worked to oust him from power.
"I will fight with everything I have for as long as it takes to expose all of those people that were involved, regardless of who they are or the position they hold," Hoover said.
With his wife watching from the balcony, Jeff Hoover admitted in front of his colleagues that he sent inappropriate but consensual text messages to a woman who once worked for the House Republican Caucus. Those text messages, according to formal disciplinary charges filed against him in the House, included a request for the woman to send photos of herself wearing a "black lace g string." Hoover said his behavior was not "unwelcome" by the woman, but Hoover agreed to pay her an undisclosed financial settlement after her attorney sent him a letter claiming sexual harassment.
Hoover and others have refused to discuss details of the settlement, citing a confidentiality clause. The Associated Press has not identified the woman because she says she is a victim of sexual misconduct. Her attorney declined to comment.
"Let me be clear: I made a mistake," Hoover said. "I did not do anything illegal. I did not do anything that was unethical. I did not do anything that was unwelcome or unwanted. And I did not engage in sexual harassment."
After his speech, Hoover left the chamber to applause and a standing ovation from some lawmakers, but disdain from others.
"I just think it's sad and disappointing that he continues to make this about him and how people are supposedly conspiring against him. And he appears to be wanting to take the focus off the initial act, which he describes as a mistake," GOP Rep. Stan Lee said. "But there was more to that act than just that mistake. There was a settlement and a confidentiality agreement that a lot of people characterize as a cover-up."
Republican Rep. Jill York said women lawmakers have a different perspective on the scandal. She said they know "this is not the first instance where there's been behaviors that were thought to be unbecoming to a member of this institution."
"What has been different this time is the addressing of it. You will note that this is a Republican-led House that is willing to convene and put together a mechanism when Republicans are those that are in question," she said, referring to new House rules passed last week that established a procedure for disciplining members.
Hoover had announced he would resign in November, just days after the Courier Journal exposed the secret sexual harassment settlement signed by him and three other Republican lawmakers. But instead, when the House convened Monday to begin the 2018 legislative session, he temporarily ceded power to Osborne, sowing confusion among the 100-member body about who was really in charge.
Osborne said he will continue to preside as House speaker pro tem until his term expires at the end of the year. House members won't elect a new speaker until January 2019.
"This has been a very difficult time, personally and professionally, for all of us," Osborne said. "We will get through it and we will do the work of the people."
Eight Republican lawmakers filed disciplinary charges against Hoover last week, asking a special committee to recommend removing him from the House. That committee continued to meet Monday, but is still in the early stages of its investigation.