Democratic chief calls for resignation of House GOP leaders

Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini today called for the resignations of Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, reports the Times-Free Press. She contends the leaders sought to shield Republican Majority Whip Jeremy Durham despite knowing of sexual harassment allegations against him.

In a news conference, Mancini attacked what she called a “culture of secrecy and coverups” and charged Republicans created a “toxic workplace” with regard to Durham, who stepped down from his caucus post on Sunday after allegations surfaced from three women who work at the Legislature regarding unwanted texts from the Franklin Republican.

“The mishandling of his offensive behavior by House Republican leadership also raises serious questions about the complicity of Speaker Harwell, Leader Gerald McCormick and Chairman Glen Casada.”

Alluding to accounts in a Tennessean news article over the weekend, Mancini said all three “knew the substance of Durham’s inappropriate behavior at least one week in advance of the caucus vote and likely much earlier.”
She said various statements from Republicans showed Durham’s “inappropriate behavior rose to the level of sexual harassment.”

On Sunday, Durham resigned his post as House Majority Whip in light of a Tennessean investigation into inappropriate text messages Durham sent to three women.

UPDATE/Note: Harwell says the Mancini missive is “absolute nonsense.” That’s toward the bottom of this post. And Mancini’s full statement is below.

Statement from Tennessee Democratic Chair Mary Mancini:
The sexually inappropriate conduct and continuing investigation of Rep. Jeremy Durham have brought to the surface more than just his unethical behavior and inappropriate conduct. The mishandling of his offensive behavior by House Republican leadership also raises serious questions about the complicity of Speaker Beth Harwell, Leader Gerald McCormick and Chairman Glen Casada.

Last week I asked, “What did the Republican leaders know and when did they know it?”

We learned this weekend that all three – Speaker Beth Harwell, Leader Gerald McCormick and Chairman Glen Casada – knew the substance of Durham’s inappropriate behavior at least a week in advance of the Caucus vote and likely much earlier. According to various statements from within the Republican Party, including the Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, Rep. Durham’s inappropriate behavior rose to the level of sexual harassment. Yet, Republican House leaders did nothing to protect women from further harm. They also failed to inform the other members of the Republican House Caucus before the sham of a caucus meeting they held to discuss Durham’s fate.

All indications point to Speaker Beth Harwell, Leader Gerald McCormick and Chairman Glen Casada knowingly perpetuating a hostile work environment at Legislative Plaza where the safety of women was put in jeopardy and they faced a substantial risk of harm. It is apparent that House leadership failed to take immediate and appropriate action to stop known sexual harassment by one of their own. Rather, they used unspecified House policies to shield Rep. Durham and allow him to remain in leadership.

So, I ask again, “What did Speaker Harwell, Leader McCormick and Chairman Casada know and when did they know it?” But there are also other unanswered questions that Tennesseans deserve to have answered.

•When Speaker Harwell asked Connie Ridley to speak to Rep. Durham about “appropriate behavior,” what events or conduct led her to refer Rep. Durham to Ms. Ridley? Had the Speaker, at that time, seen or been told about any texts, pictures, emails or other communications from Rep. Durham to women working at Legislative Plaza that might deemed sexually harassing or inappropriate?

•Have Speaker Harwell, Leader McCormick or Chairman Casada ever been informed of and/or seen any texts, photographs, emails or other communications from Rep. Durham to female state employees, interns or lobbyists that might be deemed harassing or inappropriate? If so, when and what action did they take?

•Speaker Harwell told a reporter last week: “I can only take responsibility for my actions. But if something happens that anyone is in anyway offended, I welcome them to come to this office and report it to me.” The press has now confirmed that Speaker Harwell specifically knew about the allegations of harassment by at least one woman – did she invite that woman to come to her office and report it? If not, why?

•Have Speaker Harwell, Leader McCormick or Chairman Casada been informed of or have any knowledge of inappropriate sexual conduct by Rep. Durham with any state employees, interns, lobbyists, or other legislators? If so, when did they learn of it and what action did they take?

•To what official policy is the Speaker referring when she says that state policy forbids her and Ms. Ridley from acknowledging whether complaints of sexual harassment exists?

Tennesseans deserve answers to all these questions. Tennessee’s legislature cannot be a place that sweeps sexual harassment under the rug and enables those who harass staff. We cannot have a legislature where staff is afraid to come forward when they’ve been harassed. Speaker Harwell, Leader McCormick and Chairman Casada have created a toxic workplace and have protected an accused sexual harasser. It is well past time for Speaker Harwell, Leader McCormick and Chairman Casada to resign from their leadership positions and be replaced with leaders who will stand up against the unethical and disgusting behavior.