Members of KY House GOP kicked off committees at final hour. Some suggest it’s ‘retaliation.’

Rep. Felicia Rabourn, R- Turners Station, comments during a discussion of perspectives on critical race theory in the Interim Joint Committee on Education in July 2021.

In a quiet move at the very end of the legislative session, House leadership removed multiple members of the House from committee assignments.

Moments after, one of the members who was stripped of most of her committee assignments wasn’t so quiet. Rep. Felicia Rabourn, R-Pendleton, claimed that the move was “retaliation” for challenging leadership.

Three representatives were removed from multiple committees while three others were removed from one of their committee assignments. State legislators are usually placed on a handful of their chamber’s committees, whose membership is controlled by leadership. Many of those removed are part of the informal ‘Liberty’ wing of the state GOP.

Rabourn was stripped of three of her four committee assignments, leaving her with just one assignment to the House Education Committee. Two others lost multiple committee assignments: Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, and Rep. Steven Doan, R-Erlanger, both lost two.

Rabourn said that in speaking with leadership about the move, she got the impression that she was being stripped of many committee assignments because she appealed House Speaker David Osborne’s ruling that an amendment from Calloway to a bill was not germane. She railed against leadership for the decision.

“It’s retaliation. A supermajority means nothing in this body because it’s all about power, and it will continue to be that way until we get the members of leadership out of here,” Rabourn said.

The action elicited criticism from Northern Kentucky’s U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican who often aligns with the Liberty wing of the state party.

“Punishing dissension is short sighted and doing so in the last hours of the session has an air of pettiness that voters detest,” Massie tweeted Friday afternoon.

He urged House GOP leadership, tagging them on Twitter, to not “demand compliance and loyalty” from Rabourn, Doan, Calloway and Rep. Mark Hart, R-Falmouth, who was removed from the House Agriculture Committee. Instead, he urged leadership to listen to their concerns, citing former U.S. House GOP leaders who have lost their positions in power.

“I witnessed this insular exercise of power in the US House. It cost Eric Cantor his primary election and John Boehner his speakership,” Massie wrote.

House GOP leadership spokesperson Laura Leigh Goins responded to an inquiry about the removals by stating that she was “not going to comment on what happens within the caucus.”

On being stripped of committee assignments to the education and agriculture committees, Calloway said he’d met with leadership about it but didn’t share the details of that meeting.

In a statement, he referenced a scene on the House floor earlier in the session on the same night that Rabourn appealed Osborne’s ruling. In a long speech that saw him unsuccessfully file several floor amendments, Calloway also criticized unnamed forces in power that he said were “blocking meaningful parental rights and child protection education,” and told the chamber that he was risking friendships and power in Frankfort by speaking out.

“I said that I was risking my positions for the protection of children, and this is the end result of the risk that I took,” Calloway said.

Calloway was one of the major legislative advocates for what ended up being Senate Bill 150, the omnibus LGBTQ and transgender bill that bans gender-affirming care for transgender minors.

Doan, a freshman representative who’s an attorney from Norther Kentucky, was removed from the House education and judiciary committees.

“I would imagine leadership does not want me to have too many opportunities to speak out,” Doan said. “I spoke my mind and led with my independent conservative record this session. I’ll do the same next session regardless of what committees I’m on.”

Rabourn said she believes that Doan was retaliated against for his most notable move this session: moving to lay the bill banning so-called ‘gray machines’ on the table, delaying its passage. Doan’s motion worked, though the bill was ultimately passed and signed by the governor.

Doan said that he’s not spoken with leadership about being removed from committees, but he would imagine his motion has “something to do with it.”

“If you look at my voting record, I think it speaks for itself,” Doan added.

Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, echoed Massie and called the removals “imperceptive.” Maddox, a leading figure in the GOP ‘Liberty’ movement, was pursuing the 2023 GOP gubernatorial nomination before dropping out of the primary race in late 2022.

“Differences of opinion are to be expected when you have a Republican supermajority of 80 people, and no two members will see eye to eye on every issue. However, I am troubled by the fact that punitive measures were employed to chastise members whom I believe were acting in good faith and doing their best to represent their districts,” Maddox tweeted.

The Herald-Leader has previously reported on dissatisfaction within the statehouse GOP caucuses. Tensions bubbled up within those caucus during a couple busy days in Frankfort, particularly surrounding the passage of a ‘parental rights’ bill. The final form of legislation addressing that priority was Senate Bill 150, an omnibus bill that banned gender-affirming care for minors and restricted classroom discussion on LGBTQ topics, among other things.

A handful of other legislators were removed from one of their committees late on Thursday night. Those legislators include Hart; Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill; and Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg.

When asked why she thought she was removed from the House Families & Children Committee, Tate said she wasn’t sure because she hadn’t spoken to leadership about it. But she raised the possibility that it could be related to her “very vocal” involvement in trying to make changes to House Bill 248, a bill related to recovery housing regulations from Rep. Samara Heavrin, R-Leitchfield.

“I was very, very vocal about what it (the bill) needed to look like. Maybe it just demonstrated to leadership that I wasn’t the best fit for that committee,” Tate said.

Tate added that she learned she would be removed from the committee when it was announced on the House floor.

Moser, the House Health & Family Services Chair, did not hazard a guess as to why she was removed from the House Licensing & Occupations Committee, instead deferring the question to leadership.

“I am consistently focused on strong policy which moves our Commonwealth forward, including ensuring that Kentuckians have access to quality health care. I take my role very seriously,” Moser said in an emailed statement.

The Northern Kentucky legislator, who sometimes takes more moderate positions on social issues, voted against two priority bills this session: Senate Bill 150 and another legalizing medical marijuana.

Rabourn told the Courier-Journal that she believes Moser was removed for a comment she made on the House floor during debate on legislation to ban gender-affirming care. Moser addressed “the rest of the world” watching the debate — “we are not Neanderthals,” she said. Moser voted against that bill and the similar Senate Bill 150.

Hart, who is co-chair of the Government Contract Review Committee, told the Herald-Leader he “can only speculate as to why” he was removed from the House Agriculture Committee, emphasizing that only leadership would have a definitive answer to the question.