Former House Speaker Jeff Hoover has had enough of Gov. Matt Bevin, and is urging fellow Republican lawmakers to rebuke the party’s leader for supporting an independent state House candidate.
Bevin is appearing at a fundraiser this month for small-business owner Stacie Earl, who said she is the “true conservative” in a race against Republican C. Ed Massey. The two are among the five candidates running for the House 66th District seat, which covers northern Boone County.
Massey told the Courier Journal this week that Bevin administration officials recruited Earl to enter the race, in part because he’s been endorsed by the political arm of the Kentucky Education Association, the statewide union that has been at odds with Bevin over pension reform.
“I have no desire to attack this governor but I am tired of this governor belittling teachers and others with his comments and the things that he says, and no one taking issue or exception to that,” Hoover told the Courier Journal on Thursday. “And by no one, I mean other public officials.”
A Bevin spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hoover, of Jamestown, said he has spoken with more than a dozen Republican lawmakers who he says are upset with Bevin and are looking for ways to express their frustration. He said he sent a group text message to House GOP leadership asking them to say something publicly in defense of Massey, who sits on the Boone Count school board.
“If I was still speaker of the House, I would have already made a public statement of my disappointment with the governor,” Hoover said.
House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, of Prospect, said Thursday that he hasn’t spoke to Bevin one-on-one, but did reach out to the governor’s office about the fundraiser.
“I have communicated personally my displeasure and disappointment,” he said.
Osborne said the Republican caucus wants to continue its policy momentum — which includes conservative accomplishments such as passing right to work, prevailing wage and charter school legislation — since it took control of the House in 2016.
“And in order to do that we elect Republicans,” he said. “We don’t elect Democrats, we don’t elect independents, we elect Republicans.”
Earl said the rift in the 66th District is largely due to incumbent Republican state Rep. Addia Wuchner, of Florence, who told constituents she wasn’t seeking re-election two hours before the filing deadline in January.
Massey said Wuchner called him and others about her decision a few days earlier and that he was the only person who stepped up to run. But Earl said that the way Massey obtained the GOP nomination, “without a single vote, disenfranchised many voters.”
Wuchner said in a Facebook post Thursday that she did alert multiple candidates about her intentions not to run again, and that there was “no backroom deal” with Massey. She said she stepped aside due to health reasons, but that in “hindsight, and reflecting now on the situation and disappointment of others” she made a mistake withdrawing at the last minute.
Bevin’s decision to headline the fundraiser is a reminder of his troubles with state lawmakers from his own party, especially in the House. Republicans hold a super majority in both legislative chambers, meaning Democrats can do next to nothing to stop the Republican agenda.
United Kentucky Tea Party spokesman Scott Hofstra, a longtime Bevin supporter, said after this past year, the governor is looking for better allies.
“At this point there is no love lost between most House Republicans and the governor, I don’t think (the 66th District race) is going to make a whole lot of a difference,” he said. “Those who are in the governor’s corner are going to stay in his corner and those who weren’t, he’s certainly not going to change their opinion.”
The fractures in that political alliance have often involved Hoover, who was the first Republican speaker in nearly a century and remains well liked in the chamber.
Hoover and Bevin’s relationship began to publicly deteriorate in late 2017, when the then-speaker challenged his governor’s comments that teachers were hoarding sick days.
Bevin twice called on Hoover, along with three other Republican lawmakers, to resign from office after it was first reported in the Courier Journal that the men were involved in a confidential settlement with a woman on Hoover’s staff who accused them of sexual harassment.
Bevin supported a resolution at a state GOP meeting calling for Hoover and the other legislators to resign. The party’s executive committee, however, rejected that measure after it was criticized by several House Republicans.
A few months later Bevin blamed Hoover’s sexual harassment scandal on his failure to call a special session last year to tackle tax reform and overhaul Kentucky’s retirement system.
“The only reason we did not have a special session last year is because Jeff Hoover, a married man, was sexually involved with a very young, single member of his staff and was paying hush money to hide his actions … The result was chaos in the KY House that stopped everything,” he tweeted.
Hoover and the woman both denied there was any sexual relationship. When Hoover stepped down as speaker he accused Bevin of telling “lies from the deepest pits of hell” about him during a fiery House floor speech this year.
The sexual harassment saga ended in the Legislative Ethics Commission with Hoover acknowledging he wrongfully engaged in certain text message conversations with the woman, who was an employee in his office. He also paid a $1,000 fine and received a public reprimand from the board.
Hoover said Thursday that he has accepted responsibility for the mistakes he made and that his criticism of Bevin over the 66th District race isn’t connected to their earlier feud.
“But people need to speak out when they have displeasure with things are going on and that’s what I did with my leadership,” he said.
Hoover said it’s up to party officials and voters to determine if Bevin is being a good Republican.
Bevin’s tension with the Republican majority goes beyond the personal beef with Hoover, however. Other legislators, for instance, said the governor’s remarks have hurt efforts to get a pension reform bill passed.
Bevin hasn’t spared rank-and-file GOP lawmakers from his sharp tongue, either. When he vetoed the budget and tax reform plans this year, he said legislators who crafted and approved the proposals lacked an understanding of fiscal policy and the budget process.
The GOP-controlled legislature returned the favor by easily overturning those vetoes.
Also, state lawmakers in both parties condemned Bevin for suggesting earlier this year that Kentucky children were being sexually abused or had ingested poison because school was canceled when teachers swarmed Frankfort to protest the pension overhaul.
Osborne, who said he is interested in serving as speaker next year, said it is “less than ideal” to have Bevin in open conflict with his 63-member caucus. He said it doesn’t help that the governor is backing an independent candidate over a Republican this fall.
“We’ve got 63 unique personalities so there’s going to be conflicts, I think that’s undeniable,” he said. “I think this is not a good way to mend those conflicts.”