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Date: 11-12-2017

Kentucky female lawmakers: sexual harassment is 'a man issue' - and we need more women...

With Frankfort rocked by Rep. Jeff Hoover's resignation as House speaker last Sunday amid a sexual harassment scandal, some lawmakers have an idea for improving the culture at the Capitol: more women in the legislature, with at least a few in leadership.

After the women filed a lawsuit, the state reached a $400,000 settlement with them and a third plaintiff who alleged harassment by other lawmakers.After the women filed a lawsuit, the state reached a $400,000 settlement with them and a third plaintiff who alleged harassment by other lawmakers.

Hoover, a Jamestown Republican, announced he was stepping down after a week of controversy touched off by a Courier Journal report that he had entered a confidential settlement over sexual harassment involving a woman on his legislative staff.

"The culture up there is an attitude toward women that is very condescending," said Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, a 20-year member of the General Assembly. "They objectify women."

Women hold four of the 38 state Senate seats and 19 of the 100 seats in the House. They hold no leadership positions in either chamber.

Kentucky is 42 among states in the percentage of women elected to serve in the state legislature, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Rep. Sannie Overly, a Paris Democrat and the last woman in leadership in the House of Representatives, said she believes having more women involved in decisions might help the male-dominated culture in the legislature. She lost her leadership spot as majority caucus chairwoman after Republicans won control of the chamber in 2016 and appointed new majority leaders with Hoover in the top leadership role.

"I think when women have a seat at the table, the conversation is different," she said. "We bring our life experiences, we bring our outlook, our views, our values — the issues that are important to us and our constituents."

Overly said she is "sad and surprised" by the latest allegations involving Hoover after a sexual harassment scandal involving House Democrats hit the legislature in 2014.

"We cannot ever accept this type of behavior from anyone, especially those who hold positions of power," she said.

Both political parties in Kentucky in recent years have launched efforts to recruit and prepare women to run for office.

Republicans offer a "Kentucky Strong" program designed to "recruit, train and assist in the election of pro-business, Republican women," according to its website. 

State Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Louisville Republican, is executive director. She said she believes getting more women into office is important at every level, including the legislature.

She said women have a lot to offer in elected positions.

"I think women are multi-taskers," she said. "I think women are very thoughtful and talk differently about issues than men do."

Adams said recent national attention to sexual harassment in the movie industry, the media and other arenas as well as politics shows that it's a problem "across the United States."

Democrats recruit women candidates through "Emerge Kentucky."

Its website says its mission is "to increase the number of Democratic women leaders from diverse backgrounds in public office through recruitment, training, and providing a powerful network."

Jennifer Moore is chairman of the Emerge board.

Moore said the recent allegations of sexual harassment show how important it is to have more women in the legislature, particularly in leadership.

"There's an old saying that if you don't have a seat at the table, you're probably on the menu," she said. "Women in Kentucky have been on the menu too long."

Moore noted that in the 2017 session three Republican men filed a bill to cut the mandatory ethics and sexual harassment training from three hours to 30 minutes. The bill failed.

"Men are shocked that sexual harassment occurs," Moore said. "No women are shocked."

Two Republican women in the House, Kim King of Harrodsburg and Addia Wuchner of Burlington, on Nov. 4 joined six male colleagues in a statement condemning allegations of sexual harassment involving House Republicans, demanding that anyone involved in a confidential settlement resign and asking for a full investigation of the matter.

Marzian said she thinks the scarcity of women lawmakers affects the outlook and culture of a legislature that once again is facing allegations of sexual harassment.

In 2014, the legislature was rocked by a sexual harassment scandal involving former state Rep. John Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis. Two women who worked for the Legislative Research Commission alleged Arnold had harassed them repeatedly with unwanted comments and physical contact, but their complaints largely were ignored.

After the women filed a lawsuit, the state reached a $400,000 settlement with them and a third plaintiff who alleged harassment by other lawmakers.

Marzian said more women in the legislature and leadership could help bring more balance.

"Sometimes when people get elected, they think very highly of themselves," she said. "They think the rules don't apply to them."

State Rep. Joni Jenkins, a Shively Democrat, said such sexual harassment allegations are damaging to whichever party is alleged to be at fault — in the most recent case, the Republicans.

"It certainly damages their brand, and I think it reflects on the legislature as a whole," Jenkins said. "But it hasn't been a Republican or Democrat issue. It's just been, I guess, a man issue."

By Deborah Yetter
Louisville Courier Journal




0 #4 Guy 2017-11-15 01:27
I've been harassed by women. Ill never be the same.I cant sleep at night thinking how wonderful it was.
+2 #3 suzie 2017-11-14 02:34
If women acted like ladies and dressed like ladies a lot of this so called harassment would not happen.
+2 #2 Whatever... 2017-11-13 15:58
What puzzles me is, although they have been treated so badly, the accusing women wait until they are established in their field or have made their fortune before they report the harassment. And trust me, not all women are innocent.
-4 #1 Lynn 2017-11-13 00:51
The cure for the sexual harassment of women is to have an advocacy group that women can go to to file the allegations. When women start receding these advance made then make copies, hand them over to the advocates for review. If they don’t follow then you have a second group of all women. If that doesn’t work then castrate the bastards. I’ve been in positions where I was harassed by men. It’s not a pleasant place to be especially when your bosses are men and won’t do anything about it.

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