FRANKFORT, Ky. — In February 2016, a young woman was working to get a Republican candidate elected to a state House seat in Kentucky.
Jeff Hoover, the Republican leader at the time, made her a deal: Win the election, and he would pay for a hotel room and spa treatment at an upscale resort in Lexington. The woman invited him to join her, adding she can be “decent company sometimes.”
“Heck if I come with you, I don’t want you to be decent JK,” Hoover responded in a text message.
What followed was months of flirtatious messages between Hoover, who is married with three adult daughters, and the woman who worked for him. Details of their relationship became public Tuesday when Hoover agreed to a $1,000 fine and a public reprimand from the Legislative Ethics Commission. The action comes on the heels of the #metoo movement, which since it began last year has resulted in the downfall of powerful men in politics, entertainment and media who were alleged to have behaved inappropriately with women in the workplace.
The commission released 50 pages of text messages between Hoover and the woman. The former speaker acknowledged that the communications, while consensual, violated ethics laws.
“As consensual as it was, it was still inappropriate of me and I accept that responsibility,” Hoover told the commission, adding: “This entire situation has been very difficult for me, for my family.”
The text messages are not a definitive record of the relationship. They are messages the woman chose to keep and were turned over to the ethics commission. The Associated Press is not naming the woman at her request.
The messages depict a loose, playful attitude between the two, filled with sexual innuendo sometimes initiated by the woman and sometimes initiated by Hoover.
In one exchange, Hoover comments about the number of buttons on the side of the woman’s dress. She playfully accuses him of trying to “sneak a peek.” Later, she asks him to come over, adding “we can do whatever you want.”
“I’m fun. We’d have a good time. And I feel like you’d be…good ; ),” the woman wrote to Hoover, adding: “Don’t worry about being my boss.”
“I’m sorry. But I have to worry about that and that just prohibits it. Just too risky,” Hoover replied. “If you decide to send a photo of the black lace g string, I won’t share. For my eyes only.”
The photo was not included in the pages of text messages released publicly, but it appears the woman sent the photo because Hoover asked her to delete it “before somebody sees it.”
The woman asks Hoover several times to come out with her and her friends. In May 2016, Hoover told the woman he went to a strip club in Shepherdsville, before clarifying he was joking.
“It has been so long since I’ve had a lap dance I forgot what it felt like. Not really LOL. You girls be careful,” Hoover texted.
“Guess we’ll have to fix that ;),” the woman responded.
In another exchange, the woman lets Hoover know she is working out next to another Republican lawmaker.
“He texted me about the sweat running down your chest. Just saying. Poor boy ain’t ever seen anything like that,” Hoover replied.
Hoover was one of four Republican lawmakers who signed the secret sexual harassment settlement last year along with Ginger Wills, Hoover’s former chief of staff. The men and Wills agreed to pay $110,000, with $66,000 going to the woman and $44,000 going to her attorneys.
A democratic lawmaker filed a complaint with the ethics commission, seeking an investigation to see if any laws were broken. Last week, the commission dismissed the complaint against the three other lawmakers, but allowed Hoover’s case to continue.
Tuesday, the commission was set to hear evidence in the case, including possible testimony from Hoover and the woman who made the accusations. But that hearing was canceled when Hoover agreed to a settlement that the commission approved.
“It was the best for me, I think it was the best for the former staffer, I think it is best for our families and I think it is best for the process,” Hoover told reporters after the hearing. “This is a resolution that puts it all behind us and we all can move forward now.”
The settlement does not recommend Hoover be expelled from the legislature. Nationally, two state lawmakers have been removed from office after facing sexual-harassment allegations: Democrat Steve Lebsock in Colorado and Republican Don Shooter in Arizona.
Hoover, who has been in office for 20 years, has filed to run for re-election in November. No one filed against him.