COLUMBIA — House Speaker Jay Lucas told two Orangeburg Democrats involved in a disagreement last month he could not determine who initiated their physical altercation.
The Hartsville Republican said in a letter to Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter and Jerry Govan that since their stories varied and there were no witnesses to the incident, he was warning both of them but giving no other discipline.
"While I believe that Rep. Govan bears a higher level of responsibility to have avoided this incident, I am choosing to advise both of you that such incidents have no place in the South Carolina House and that any future disagreements of any nature must be handled in a civil, professional manner," Lucas wrote.
The warning comes after a May 11 incident in which Cobb-Hunter and Govan were discussing a bill about the consolidation of school districts in Orangeburg County.
According to Lucas' letter, that incident became physical. In a recording of the floor session that day, Cobb-Hunter can be seen rubbing her wrists while an ice pack can be seen on her desk.
According to Lucas' account of the incident detailed in the letter and gathered by an outside law firm, Cobb-Hunter and Govan got into a verbal disagreement in a hallway between the joint legislative meeting room and House chambers. That disagreement became physical — with "some level of mutual contact" — when Govan approached Cobb-Hunter, who was backing away.
However, based on interviews with Govan and Cobb-Hunter, as well as two staff members and three other members of the House, Lucas said accounts of the incident "vary dramatically."
"If clearer evidence of who initiated the physical contact existed I can assure you both that severe consequences would result," Lucas wrote.
This is not the first time Govan has been the subject of an investigation into a physical altercation with another House member.
In 2004, he got into a heated confrontation with former Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison. At the time, Harrison said there was some "contact." Both said staffers had to separate them.
Then-House Speaker David Wilkins disciplined Govan by removing him from the Judiciary Committee.