FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — An embattled lawmaker who faced the possibility of censure or expulsion from the General Assembly because of allegations that he sexually harassed legislative staffers resigned Friday.
Democratic state Rep. John Arnold, of Sturgis, submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Steve Beshear just days ahead of the first meeting of a special legislative committee that is investigating the matter.
"As you or anyone else who has been reading the newspapers realize, I have been destroyed politically," Arnold said in the letter. "After having been appropriately advised, I do not believe that I am guilty of sexual harassment. But even if I mounted a vigorous defense to the administrative proceedings in Frankfort, and regardless of the outcome, I believe I would be an ineffective voice for my constituents in future legislative sessions."
Beshear said he will consider calling a special election soon so that voters in Arnold's western Kentucky district can choose his replacement.
"I respect his decision to step aside so that our legislators can focus instead on the business of the state," Beshear said.
Legislative workers Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper alleged that Arnold had touched them inappropriately and had made vulgar comments. Before he sent the letter to Beshear, Arnold hadn't publicly responded to the allegations. He didn't return a phone call to his legislative office Friday.
Costner and Cooper have hired Louisville attorney Thomas Clay to represent them. Clay said the resignation doesn't end Arnold's legal troubles.
"If we don't resolve our issues through negotiations, then we intend to file a lawsuit," said Clay, who alleges that the Legislative Research Commission had failed to protect his clients from the harassment even after they had complained.
Clay said he had spoken only briefly with Costner and Cooper about Arnold's resignation.
"Obviously, they were pleased by the development," Clay said. "It's a pretty good indication that Rep. Arnold isn't wanting to face the music."
House Speaker Greg Stumbo appointed five lawmakers to a special committee to investigate the sexual harassment complaints against Arnold. Their first meeting was scheduled for Tuesday. That committee could have ultimately recommended Arnold's censure or expulsion from the Legislature.
Stumbo said the investigation will continue, despite Arnold's resignation.
"The only thing that will change is that the members will not have to make a recommendation of potential disciplinary action," Stumbo said. "We look forward to that committee beginning its work and providing feedback to the House."
Legislative leaders had already suspended Arnold as chairman of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development & Tourism, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection.
The sexual harassment allegations could force changes in the Legislature.
Democratic state Rep. Sannie Overly of Paris called this week for an independent review of the Legislature's policies regarding workplace behavior.
Overly, chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus, said she intends to file a bill next year to mandate such a review and create a new personnel system that would ensure a harassment-free workplace.
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said Friday that Arnold had "chose the better path" by resigning.
"Nonetheless, there are workplace issues that remain unresolved," Stivers said.