By Sam Youngman
Likely Democratic Senate nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes told about 150 Fayette County Democrats Tuesday night that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has “yesterday’s view of women.” Then she declined to answer questions about a former Democratic lawmaker accused of sexual harassment.
After her speech, Grimes worked the crowd at the downtown Hilton and left, refusing to speak with reporters about a decision made hours earlier by the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission to not punish former state Rep. John Arnold of Sturgis. Three legislative aides have accused Arnold of sexual harassment, saying that he touched them inappropriately.
The deciding vote against punishing Arnold was cast by Elmer George, who has contributed $5,200 to Grimes’ campaign and was appointed to the commission late last year by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who has played a major role at several campaign events for Grimes.
Grimes’s spokeswoman, Charly Norton, said the candidate had to “get home,” which is less than a mile from where the dinner was held. The candidate, who added a line about freedom of the press to her standard stump speech Tuesday night, refused to acknowledge reporters who walked out of the hotel with her.
Earlier in the day, Grimes joined national Democrats in pushing for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act on what Democrats termed Equal Pay Day.
Meanwhile, the Legislative Ethics Commission voted 4-1 to punish Arnold for allegedly abusing his position as a public official, but five votes are needed to approve an action by the nine-member commission. George voted no, saying he did not think the commission had the authority to punish someone who was no longer a member of the General Assembly. Three other commission members were absent, and one seat is vacant.
Two of the alleged victims, Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner, said the commission’s decision appeared political.
Grimes did not mention the Frankfort scandal during her speech, but did blast McConnell for calling her an “empty dress.” That remark, however, was made last year by a staffer for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Grimes has said she has “zero tolerance for harassment and discrimination in the workplace,” but refused last fall to call for the resignation of Arnold, who resigned in September while denying any wrongdoing. She also accepted a $250 campaign contribution from a John Arnold, according to her last fundraising report.
After an event in Northern Kentucky in February, the Herald-Leader asked Grimes if she wished, given the importance she has placed on “standing up for Kentucky women” in her campaign, that she had handled the Arnold scandal differently.
“Listen, I have been a champion, will continue to be a champion for the women of this state,” Grimes said. “And they know the work that I have done as Secretary of State, especially in terms of making sure that there are no barriers to the ballot box and that we are enacting the first ever address confidentiality program.”
She continued: “This campaign will continue to be about making sure they have a champion and not just a chatterbox, and it’s proof in terms of the first thing that I’ll put my name to, the last thing that Sen. McConnell says he’ll put his name to, is an increase in the minimum wage and working to make sure we’re closing the pay equity gap. My life’s work has been about making sure that we elevate the women throughout not just Kentucky, but the entire United States, and I’ll continue to do that.”
When the Herald-Leader asked if Grimes would return the $250 check from Arnold, Grimes said that “this campaign is about in terms of the work that we have done thousands of individuals, over 30,000 contributions.”
A spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Kentucky issued a statement Tuesday afternoon that said Grimes “only likes to talk about standing up for Kentucky women when it’s politically convenient for her.”
“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,” said spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper. “Kentucky women deserve better than someone who uses gender as a political ploy.”