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Kentucky GOP denies involvement in LRC firing

Published 8:49 am Thursday, February 20, 2014

Despite claims to the contrary, Senate Republican leaders did not pursue the termination of a former Legislative Research Commission staffer who appeared in a campaign video for U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, Senate President Robert Stivers said Wednesday.

Charles Booker, a former Government Contract Review Committee analyst, was fired Monday after appearing in the Feb. 11 campaign video with his wife and daughter. He told The Courier-Journal he was terminated for violating an LRC policy prohibiting non-partisan staff from outside political activity and, in a statement to Louisville’s WFPL News, blamed the Senate GOP for his ouster.

“It is disappointing that people would use my support for my family and community as a political game of whack-a-mole,” Booker said in a statement to WFPL. “I refuse to be bullied, and if I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would.”

Stivers, R-Manchester, said he’s confident no member of Senate Republican leadership had a hand in Booker’s removal. LRC staffers are not protected by a merit system and can be terminated at will.

“What has happened is beyond my knowledge,” Stivers said. “… If there is a question to be brought before the LRC (the 16-member body comprised of legislative leaders) that would be the appropriate venue and forum to do it — not any one of us by chamber trying in any way to interfere with the processes. And we haven’t.”

Some, such as Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal of Louisville, remain skeptical. Neal gave an emotional floor speech saying the LRC violated Booker’s First Amendment rights.

“What they may have exposed us to is a court action in federal court for violation of those First Amendment rights, and for what?” Neal said. “… The rumor is leaders in the Senate on the Republican side took this complaint to LRC.”

Neal called the action “intolerable,” but said he did not believe Stivers was involved. He referenced the LRC’s personnel policy, which repeatedly uses examples of political activity in legislative races but has no direct references to federal elections.

The policy states that an employee’s political activity should not impair relationships with legislators or create distrust. Marcia Seiler, acting director of the LRC, issued a memorandum Jan. 29 reiterating the agency’s policy on partisan activity and directed employees with questions to contact her.

Rather than terminate Booker, the LRC could have shuffled him to another assignment, Neal told The State Journal.

“That’s par for the course,” Neal said. “… Whenever there’s a situation that a legislator is concerned about somebody or they feel disappointed in their work level or there’s some question they have about their connection with a Republican or Democrat, that sort of thing, they just put them in another situation.”

Neal said there was no proof Booker’s appearance in Grimes’ campaign video damaged his standing with some lawmakers.