By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A state lawmaker hit back Tuesday at critics of a YouTube video she posted of her dog Pepper being held outside a moving car for what she called an “air swim.”
Freshman Rep. Julia Hurley said in an interview in her legislative office that her Chinese crested named Pepper enjoys being held out into the wind.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Hurley’s short video titled “Pepper Air Swims” was pulled two days after being posted on YouTube. Hurley, a Republican, said she removed the video because she “didn’t want to deal with” criticism she calls politically motivated.
“I think it’s a liberal ploy to take the attention off the bills and the legislation I’ve passed and the positive things I’ve done, to make me look like a bad person,” the Lenoir City Republican said.
Hurley said people who complained about the video should explain why they don’t have a similar reaction about other unrestrained dogs in the beds of pickup trucks or leaning out windows.
“My dog obviously enjoys it,” Hurley said. “She’s very happy.”
The newspaper was contacted by the Rev. Peggy Blanchard, who criticized the video in an email.
“I find Ms. Hurley’s behavior to be extremely unkind and irresponsible,” said Blanchard, who is an Episcopal priest. “While Ms. Hurley and her friend are laughing and having fun, the dog is clearly terrified.”
“This sort of behavior exhibited by a person who has a position of leadership sets a very poor example of behavior for both adults and children,” Blanchard wrote.
Hurley said the backlash could lead her to stop posting social media updates.
“People say they want a legislator they can relate to, they want an open-door policy and know everything that’s going on,” she said. “But you try to give them that, and they use it against you to try to make you look like a bad person.”
Hurley’s dog previously was the subject of attention when the lawmaker was thrown out of the Roane County courthouse for bringing the pet along in March. She argued that the 11-pound dog is classified as a service animal, though she brought the pet along as a companion.
Upon her election to the House in 2010, Hurley drew national attention for crediting her success to the time she spent working at Hooters restaurants, in a two-page article for the chain’s magazine.
Later that year, she wrote a letter to the commander of the Tennessee Highway Patrol to apologize for how she treated a state trooper who pulled her over for speeding. And House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, had Hurley pay for refurbishing a desk she had carved her initials into at the end of her first legislative session.
“There are some people who are going to say, ‘Oh Julia is so is so irresponsible and keeps doing all these stupid things,'” Hurley said.
“But really, I’m not doing anything differently than anyone else; it’s just that people perceive it how they want to,” she said. “But I like to focus on my legislation; that’s why I’m here.”
Hurley faces a Republican challenger, Kent Calfee of Kingston, in the August primary.