- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

MIDWAY, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s major party nominees for lieutenant governor - both women for the first time in state history - clashed over a sexual harassment scandal during their first televised debate at Kentucky’s only women’s college Wednesday.

Lawmakers recently settled a $400,000 sexual harassment lawsuit brought by two state employees who say they were touched inappropriately by former Democratic state Rep. John Arnold. State Rep. Sannie Overly, the running mate for Democratic nominee Jack Conway, was the House Majority Caucus chairwoman when the lawsuit was filed. Republican nominee for governor Matt Bevin last week criticized Overly for “turning her back” on the women and for attempting to have her deposition in the case hidden from the public.

During Wednesday night’s debate at Midway University, Overly denounced Bevin’s comments as “reprehensible” and called it a “false attack.”

“That is why even some Kentucky Republicans call Matt Bevin a pathological liar,” Overly said, referencing comments made by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign about Bevin during the 2014 Senate primary.

Overly is the first woman to be elected to the state House majority leadership. In her first year as majority caucus chairwoman, two women who worked for the House leadership team sued Arnold for sexual harassment. Arnold denied the allegations and resigned. But the lawsuit would drag on for two years. Overly has refused to answer questions about the case and tried to have her under-oath deposition sealed for fear it would be used against her politically.

Overly never testified in the case because the state settled the lawsuit this summer. But Arnold did give a deposition, and Wednesday the Lexington Herald-Leader quoted him as saying he “spanked the knee” of Overly, adding that she said “she’d knock me out” if he did it again.

“I’m not going to talk about any interactions between Rep. Arnold and myself,” Overly said after the debate.

Jenean Hampton, Bevin’s Republican running mate, said if she and Bevin are elected, women “will know we have a mechanism to address whatever happens so their grievances can be properly addressed.”

“I find it very interesting that my opponent fought very hard during the sexual harassment case to have her deposition sealed,” Hampton said during the debate. “I’ll just throw that out there.”

For the first time, two women are the major party nominees for lieutenant governor in the same election. The League of Women Voters did not invite Independent candidate Drew Curtis’ running mate Heather Curtis because their campaign was polling at less than 10 percent.

“Tonight’s debate has been touted as historic for featuring two female candidates for lieutenant governor. Two is good, but three would have been better,” Curtis campaign spokeswoman Heather Chapman said. “All candidates on the ballot should be invited.”

Hampton and Overly did not stray from their running mates’ positions on the key issues, including health care, education and a statewide smoking ban. Hampton outlined an administration that would focus on the private sector by pushing people off Medicaid to private health insurance, using vouchers to let parents send their children to private schools and leaving it to businesses to decide if they want to ban smoking.

Overly defended the state’s Medicaid expansion for drastically reducing the state’s uninsured population, praised Kentucky’s education standards for doubling college readiness among high school students and endorsed a statewide smoking ban because of the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Hampton and Overly disagreed about the court’s handling of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who spent five days in jail for disobeying a federal judge’s ruling ordering her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Overly said Davis should issue the licenses because “no one is above the law,” adding that Kentucky must comply with U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Hampton, who is black, questioned whether the Supreme Court “is the final arbiter on anything.”

“If that were true, I would still be a slave,” she said.

The debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and television stations WKYT in Lexington, and WLKY in Louisville.

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