- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas has warned two veteran legislators not to let another disagreement turn physical but declined to choose sides.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she’s offended by Lucas‘ suggestion that she and Rep. Jerry Govan were equally at fault and disappointed Govan wasn’t punished at all. She said she’s exploring her options, which include complaining to the House Ethics Committee.

Govan disputes her account but would not give specifics to the AP.

Lucas advised both in a letter Tuesday to keep their future disagreements civil and professional, saying he was unable to determine what happened May 11 because their accounts varied widely and no one saw the initial contact. He wrote he ascertained only that there was “some form of mutual physical contact with one another.”

“There was no mutual contact. It was one-sided,” said Cobb-Hunter, a social worker for victims of domestic violence. “It was him grabbing and pushing me.”

The former House minority leader said she held out her hand to keep Govan at bay, and he grabbed her wrist and “twisted it all the way back.” She said she had to keep ice on her swollen wrist for two days and it’s still not completely healed.

Govan insisted to The AP he “did not initiate anything in terms of physical contact.”

“I really regret it happened. I responded in a way any reasonable person would,” said Govan, who first took office in 1993, a year after Cobb-Hunter. “At no time was there any intent on my part to injure or harm anyone.”

On the last day of the regular session, the two Orangeburg Democrats were arguing in a hallway leading to the House chamber over legislation consolidating Orangeburg County school districts. The bill was approved during a special session Tuesday.

One of the officers assigned to keep order in the House reported the confrontation.

Witnesses said Govan initiated it by approaching Cobb-Hunter as she was walking away, Lucas wrote.

Govan said he did so because she’d said something he felt wasn’t true.

“While I believe that Rep. Govan bears a higher level of responsibility to have avoided this incident, having been the initial aggressor, I am choosing to advise both of you that such incidents have no place in the South Carolina House,” Lucas‘ letter concluded.

Last month’s heated exchanged wasn’t Govan’s first in the Statehouse.

Retired Senate staffer Valarie Tresvant told The AP on Wednesday that Govan got in her face and yelled at her in May 2016 while she was volunteering for the Legislative Black Caucus after she inadvertently referred to him by his first name. She said there was no physical contact. She said she walked out of the Statehouse and cried but did not report it. She said she was disappointed Govan wasn’t at least reprimanded for the Cobb-Hunter incident.

Govan declined to address that account, saying it’s entirely unrelated.

In 2004, then-House Speaker David Wilkins removed Govan from the Judiciary Committee after a confrontation with its chairman that nearly came to blows. Govan went to then-Chairman Jim Harrison’s office, upset that a bill he was advocating wasn’t advancing. Harrison said Govan grabbed him and others had to separate them.

Govan is currently a member of the House Education Committee. Cobb-Hunter is a vice chairman of Ways and Means.

Lucas has admonished three Republican House members since becoming speaker in 2014. Two resigned amid investigations of sexual harassment. Former Rep. Chris Corley resigned in January after he was arrested and accused of beating his wife bloody. He faced expulsion after initially refusing to resign.

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