Widow chosen as Republican nominee after lawmaker's suicide

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SHEPHERDSVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The widow of a Kentucky lawmaker who killed himself following a sexual assault allegation has been nominated by Republicans to fill the seat he held.

Bullitt County GOP Chairman Paul Ham said a vote was taken Thursday night to nominate Rebecca Johnson.

Gov. Matt Bevin set a Feb. 20 special election to find a replacement for Republican Dan Johnson, whose body was found this month with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He died a day after denying that he sexually assaulted a teenage girl in 2013. Johnson was in his first term representing a House district south of Louisville.

Rebecca Johnson will face former state Rep. Linda Belcher. The Bullitt County Democratic Party announced on Thursday that Belcher was selected as the nominee by a unanimous vote.

Johnson was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 2016 amid a wave of Republican victories that gave the GOP control of the chamber for the first time in nearly a century. During the campaign, he defied calls from Republican leaders for him to drop out of the race after he compared Barack and Michelle Obama to monkeys in a Facebook post.

As a freshman legislator, Johnson sponsored bills having to do with religious liberty and teaching the Bible in public schools, but he was mostly out of the spotlight.

That ended this month when the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published an account from a woman who said Johnson sexually assaulted her in the basement of the church fellowship hall in 2013. Police investigated the incident but closed the case and did not file charges.

Johnson called the allegations "totally false" from the pulpit of his church on Dec. 12 and told reporters he would run for another House term in 2018. He was found dead the next day.

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