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After Arnold cleared, Wayne to push for changes to ethics laws

by Joe Arnold


Posted on April 11, 2014 at 4:45 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 11 at 5:53 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- As Kentucky Democrats face a backlash after a controversial decision by the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, Louisville Representative Jim Wayne (D) plans to push for immediate changes to the state's ethics code when lawmakers reconvene on Monday.

Wayne tells WHAS11 he is considering "a number of options," including granting the ethics panel jurisdiction over both sexual harassment claims and any actions by a lawmaker while in office even after the lawmaker has resigned.

On Tuesday, the ethics panel effectively cleared former Representative John Arnold (D-Sturgis) of sexual harassment complaints filed by several capitol workers. 

Because three of the eight members of the commission were absent, it took only one vote to prevent a reprimand of Arnold.

Elmer George, an appointee of House Speaker Greg Stumbo, was the only "no" vote, later explaining the panel has no authority over someone who was no longer in office.

Yolanda Costner, one of the women who filed the complaints, ridiculed that reasoning.

"If somebody robs a bank does that mean that I could quit my job as a teller and steal money and I don't have to be subject to having to uphold the law?" Costner said.

Arnold's attorney had also argued that the ethics code Arnold was accused of violating did not expressly prohibit sexual harassment.

Arnold resigned his House seat in September, one month after the women filed the complaints.

In December, the Democratic majority on the House committee appointed to investigate Arnold voted to disband the body, also reasoning that it had no authority because Arnold had already resigned.

All three accusers are African-American.  Arnold is white.

"It's almost like slavery," Costner told WHAS11, "where the slave would be assaulted and nobody cared and nobody took care of him.  And I'm still expected to go to work and be a servant and do my job."

Wayne said he hopes to make that sure racial minorities are represented on the commission, and that members must limit their absences from meetings.

Even though the time for new legislation has passed this year, Wayne said he hopes to propose a floor amendment into an existing bill.

The controversy has become political kryptonite for Kentucky Democrats.

"If they don't correct it, it could be the single biggest issue that costs the Democrats the House of Representatives in November," said Bob Gunnell, a veteran Democratic strategist in Kentucky.

The controversy has also become an issue in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race.  Both Arnold and George are contributors to the campaign of Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, whose campaign has focused on female voters. 

Grimes has declined calls to return the campaign donations.  George's son, Elmer George, Jr., works for the Grimes campaign.

"He does (work for the campaign) and has for months," said Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton, "and it has no effect on Alison's position on the matter."

The Kentucky Republican Party hammered Grimes.

"What's become increasingly apparent in this campaign, is that Alison Lundergan Grimes only likes to talk about standing up for Kentucky women when it's politically convenient for him," said Kentucky GOP spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper.  "Instead of blindly parroting whatever talking points are disseminated by the Obama White House or her liberal Democrat allies, perhaps Grimes could start talking about the real issues that affect women, like the devastating effects of ObamaCare, or finally speak up about the sexual harassment of women that work in her own building. Kentucky women deserve better than someone who uses gender as a political ploy."

Grimes' campaign skewered McConnell's campaign for using the issue as a "political football."

"It is deplorable that Mitch McConnell's campaign attempted to these victims' degrading and humiliating experiences for his own political gain," Norton responded.  "After blocking the Paycheck Fairness Act, this week just further underscores the McConnell campaign's desperation when it comes to running away from McConnell's horrible record on women's rights."

"As Alison has always said, she will never tolerate discrimination or workplace harassment," Norton added. "Protecting women from violence and harassment is personal to Alison as she fought for victims in the courtroom as an attorney, and as Secretary of State, has championed legislation that protects domestic violence victims when they exercise their right to vote. Alison's support for the women and families of Kentucky is unmatched in this race."

Costner told WHAS11 that Grimes has expressed "she was sorry about what happened.  However, we never had deep, long conversations about my assault."

"Nobody pressured me to tell me to tell Alison to keep Mr. Arnold's money," Costner said.  "We told her to keep it and use it to fight for women's rights."

"Like an old saying, 'If the devil gives you money, use it for good and glorify God,'" Costner said.