Ex-Kentucky House speaker in ethics probe runs unopposed

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Ex-Kentucky House speaker in ethics probe runs unopposed
FILE- In this Jan. 8, 2018, Republican speaker of Kentucky's House of Representatives Rep. Jeff Hoover resigns from his leadership position during a speech at the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. Hoover, embroiled in an ethics investigation after acknowledging he signed a secret sexual harassment settlement, will face no opposition in his quest to win re-election. No one stepped forward before the candidate filing deadline on Tuesday, Jan. 30, to challenge Hoover. (AP Photo/Michael Reaves, File)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s former House speaker, embroiled in an ethics investigation after acknowledging he signed a secret sexual harassment settlement, will face no opposition in his quest to win re-election in his heavily Republican district.

No one stepped forward before Tuesday’s candidate filing deadline to challenge state Rep. Jeff Hoover in the rural district he has represented for two decades.

Hoover’s unopposed path to re-election comes as Republicans look to solidify their dominance in the state legislature and unseat the only Kentucky Democrat left in Congress.

Kentucky’s top ranking health official, Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, said she resigned from Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration to join in challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth. Glisson led the state’s effort to impose the nation’s first-ever work requirements on Medicaid.

Democrats, meanwhile, tried to recruit a challenger for Hoover but came up empty handed.

“Regardless of anything that’s happening up here at the Capitol, the fact is Rep. Hoover remains immensely popular in his district,” said state Republican Party spokesman Tres Watson.

The district spanning a handful of rural counties is a GOP stronghold. President Donald Trump won 84 percent of the vote in Hoover’s home county in the 2016 presidential election.

Hoover became the state’s first Republican House speaker in nearly a century in 2017, but he resigned from his leadership position earlier this month after acknowledging he secretly settled a sexual harassment claim and paid to keep it quiet.

Hoover — who had been the face of the House Republican Caucus for years as they struggled to take control of the chamber — refused to resign his legislative seat.

Hoover admitted he sent inappropriate but consensual text messages to a woman who once worked for the House Republican Caucus. Those text messages allegedly included a request for the woman to send photos of herself wearing a “black lace g string.”

Hoover has denied he engaged in sexual harassment, saying his behavior was not “unwelcome” by the woman. Hoover agreed to pay her an undisclosed financial settlement after her attorney sent him a letter claiming sexual harassment.

The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission will hear testimony and review evidence at a public hearing to determine whether Hoover and three other GOP lawmakers violated standards.

Bevin had urged all four of the lawmakers to resign.

Of the other three lawmakers, Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland filed for re-election but drew GOP and Democratic challengers. The other two House Republicans — Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green and Brian Linder of Dry Ridge — are not seeking new terms.

Democrats tried to recruit a challenger to Hoover. The party had discussions with someone whose possible candidacy was “up in the air” until Tuesday, but the person decided not to run, said state Democratic Party spokesman Brad Bowman. Bowman said it “has to be uncomfortable” for the GOP to have a scandal-scarred former House speaker on the ballot.

Watson, the state GOP spokesman, said he couldn’t comment on whether the state party tried to line up an opponent for Hoover because he wasn’t involved in “all the recruiting efforts.”

“The more important thing is what we do moving forward,” he said. “I think the House leadership is dedicated to working to strengthen the rules … for how the General Assembly operates with its staff and make sure that we prevent this from happening again.”

Meanwhile, Glisson stepped forward Tuesday as a Republican candidate for the Louisville-area 3rd Congressional District — one of the state’s last Democratic strongholds.

Glisson was secretary for Kentucky’s Health and Family Services Cabinet, which oversees the state’s Medicaid program. Yarmuth was first elected to Congress from the district in 2006. He has been a staunch advocate for former President Barack Obama’s health care law and has easily won his re-election campaigns. Two other Republicans have filed for the congressional seat — Mike Craven and Rhonda Palazzo.

Yarmuth’s campaign immediately tried to connect his GOP challengers to Trump, saying the congressman is “focused on combating attacks by Washington Republicans on the priorities of Louisville families.” His campaign said Yarmuth looks forward to debating “whichever candidate emerges from the party of Trump primary” in the spring.

Glisson said she worked closely with Trump’s administration in pushing to place the work requirements on Medicaid. “That’s been a good experience, and I think I can work well with the Trump administration,” she told reporters.