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House speaker who resigned over harassment claim reconsiders

FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2017 file photo, Jeff Hoover looks up to the cheers from the gallery following his swearing in Frankfort, Ky. Kentucky's House speaker, who said he would resign his leadership position after acknowledging he settled a sexual harassment claim with a female legislative staffer, now says he's reconsidering that decision. Hoover announced his resignation in November, saying at the time that it was "effective immediately." But his resignation is not official until he submits it to the House of Representatives. The House convened Tuesday, but Hoover did not resign. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s House speaker, who said he was resigning from his leadership post two months ago after acknowledging he secretly settled a sexual harassment claim with a female legislative aide, is now having second thoughts, sowing confusing about who’s in charge as lawmakers reconvene.

As the legislature opened its 2018 session Tuesday, Jeff Hoover instead tapped another lawmaker to stand in as speaker “until further notice.”

Hoover had announced his resignation in November, one of dozens of powerful men across the country toppled by allegations of sexual harassment or abuse. He denied sexually harassing a woman who once worked for the House Republican Caucus, although he acknowledged sending her inappropriate but consensual text messages.

At the time, Hoover said his resignation was “effective immediately” and in the best interest of the state. But his resignation does not become official unless he formally submits it to the House, and he can only do that when the House is in session.

When the House convened, Hoover did not resign. Instead, he asked Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne to preside in his place “until further notice,” saying he has heard from “both Republicans and Democrats, as well as business leaders, political leaders and others across the Commonwealth, encouraging me to reconsider my decision to resign.”

In a statement, Hoover indicated he would step aside at least until the Legislative Ethics Commission completes its investigation of the settlement.

“As I consider the best course forward, and in light of the two pending issues before the Legislative Ethics Commission, I have asked speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne to serve, as the Rules of the House of Representatives provides, as the presiding officer until further notice,” Hoover said.

Confusion spread on the House floor, as Osborne gaveled the House in session with Hoover’s name still adorning the dais overlooking the chamber. Hoover’s assigned seat had been moved to the back row, and he left shortly after registering his attendance.

“Jeff Hoover is still the speaker of the House,” Osborne told reporters Tuesday.

Osborne would not say whether Hoover still attends leadership meetings or gives instructions to GOP leaders. He said Hoover is still a member of two influential committees that determine which bills get debated on the House floor.

“As speaker pro tem, I am the presiding officer of the House and therefore I am controlling the operations of the House,” Osborne said.

House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said the Democratic caucus “unanimously believes that Speaker Jeff Hoover should keep the commitment he made to the people of Kentucky in November and resign immediately.”

Hoover was one of four Republican lawmakers to settle the sexual harassment claim. The other three have all lost their committee chairmanships. None has resigned from the legislature.

House Republican Caucus spokeswoman Daisy Olivo has filed a lawsuit alleging that Hoover had a sexual relationship with the woman and used money from prominent political donors to pay the settlement. The woman, through her attorney, said none of that was true. The Associated Press generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual misconduct.

Hoover and the other Republican lawmakers say a confidentiality clause in the settlement prevents them from discussing it publicly. House GOP leaders have asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to use its subpoena power to determine if lawmakers used money from political donors or registered lobbyists to pay the settlement, which could violate state law.

Hoover’s latest action comes after weeks of feuding with Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who has publicly urged Hoover to give up not just his position as speaker, but his seat in the legislature. Bevin told a WKYX radio on Tuesday he still expects Hoover to resign this week.

In a news release explaining his decision, Hoover said he resigned in November because the governor publicly called for him to step down. He said he wanted to “protect House members from the intervention of the Executive branch into purely legislative matters.”

A spokeswoman for Bevin did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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