Armstrong indictment reaction: Ethics investigation eyed

News of federal charges leveled against veteran state Rep. Joe Armstrong reached the State Capitol at closing time Wednesday as legislative colleagues expressed surprise and a Republican leader said the House Ethics Committee may be convened to examine the matter.

Further from Richard Locker:

“While these are very serious allegations, we must keep in mind that Rep. Armstrong should be considered innocent until proven guilty,” House Republican Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga said in a statement. “With that said, however, I do believe this is a matter in which our House Ethics Committee should convene to examine further.”

…“I have not seen the indictment and do not know all the details,” House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said in a statement. “I would in no way defend any unlawful activity by a member and take it very seriously. Members of the Legislature should never act to seek personal gain from their service to the state.”

House Democratic Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, whose Legislative Plaza office adjoins Armstrong’s, said in a statement he and Armstrong have served together for more than 20 years.

“In that time, I have never known him to be anything other than a dedicated public servant and an advocate for his community,” Fitzhugh said. “We have a justice system in place to deal with these situations. I believe it is important to reserve our judgment until all the facts have come to light. Until then, my thoughts are with Joe and his family as this process moves forward.”

At home in Knoxville, friends and associates expressed similar surprise.

“I always say innocent until proven guilty,” said City Councilman Daniel Brown, who attends the same church as Armstrong. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens. Who knows at this point? It could be political.”

Knox County Commissioner Sam McKenzie, a fraternity brother of Armstrong, said the man described in the indictment doesn’t sound like the Armstrong he knows.

“I’ve known (Armstrong) pretty much all of my adult life,” McKenzie said. “I’ve worked on political, professional and personal organizations with him. (Armstrong) has always been a stand-up guy, real honest.”