By John David Dyche
Kentucky Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg/Lexington) does not want anybody else to know anything about the investigation of sexual harassment complaints against Rep. John Arnold (D-Sturgis). Stumbo is in full cover-up mode because fallout from the Arnold scandal threatens the Democratic House majority and his personal power.
Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester), Senate Democratic leader R. J. Palmer (D-Winchester), and House Republican leader Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) reasonably requested an executive session of the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) so they could find out "what investigations are going on and who's conducting them." Stumbo stonewalled.
He first balked at convening the LRC, but said its director, Bobby Sherman, "has already been instructed to provide a formal report upon the conclusion of the investigation." Who gave Sherman such instructions? Presumably Stumbo himself. What other instructions has he given him? The rest of the LRC is entitled to know.
The 16-member LRC is like the General Assembly's board of directors. It is made up of bipartisan leadership from both chambers. The House Speaker and Senate President are co-chairmen.
By law, LRC meetings "shall be called by the co-chairmen … upon the written request of any three members." Despite this mandatory language Stumbo tried to block the rest of legislative leadership from learning the basic facts about an important LRC investigation.
The LRC statute also provides, "Any action of the Commission shall require an affirmative roll call vote of a majority of the Commission's entire membership." In l'affaire Arnold, the LRC has apparently initiated an investigation of sexual harassment complaints and hired an attorney to mediate those complaints.
Yet the other LRC members did not vote to approve those actions. They apparently became aware of them from media reports. A single LRC member seems to be controlling the investigation and information flow: Stumbo.
He is probably breaking the law in the process. But political self-preservation is now Stumbo's top priority. This modern Machiavelli cynically thinks it will be easier to ask forgiveness after the investigation than to ask permission to continue controlling it.
The Arnold allegations go back to 2009. When the story broke, Stumbo first said he had no direct knowledge of complaints against Arnold, but had heard rumors. That story changed when Stumbo later told the House he had learned of an Arnold complaint in February and went immediately to Sherman.
Stumbo then selectively released self-serving documents after a Democratic lawmaker said that "some of his colleagues told him to keep quiet allegations of sexual harassment and assault against a fellow legislator to protect the party's majority in upcoming elections." So what did Stumbo know and when did he know it?
Arnold won his 2012 election by a mere 5 votes after the House Democratic Caucus Campaign Committee, which Stumbo essentially controls, contributed $20,000 to Arnold's campaign. It will be extremely damaging to Democrats if Stumbo funded Arnold's campaign while knowing of sex harassment allegations against him.
Thomas Clay, attorney for two of the complainants, says, "This is just the outer skin of the onion." Clay adds that the Capitol's culture of harassment "is much more widespread than just one representative and two LRC staff members" and "encompasses other LRC staff members as well as elected representatives." Stumbo fears that other scandals will soon come cascading out.
It is perfectly legitimate for other LRC members to demand information about any investigations. Indeed, it is their responsibility to know and to provide direction and oversight. Important rights are involved, state finances are affected, and public confidence in the General Assembly is at stake.
After enduring a day of bad press Stumbo reversed course and said he had no objection to an LRC meeting after all. He also introduced a petition of censure and expulsion in hopes of forcing the embattled Arnold into resignation. If Arnold quits Stumbo can then argue for shutting down all inquiries, especially as to his own conduct.
This kettle of corruption is about to boil over and burn Stumbo and his party. Desperate to protect his brood, expect him to soon threaten others in an attempt to de-rail inquiries and distract attention from his own fouled nest. The media, the legislature, and the public must not let him get away with it.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.