Category Archives: scandals

Special ouster session way short on signatures

The idea of calling a special session of the Legislature to consider ouster of state Rep. Jeremy Durham — and possibly Rep. Joe Armstrong — appears to be losing steam.

As of Friday, only four nine of the necessary 66 state House members had signed either of two submitted petitions. One by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, calls for expelling Durham, R-Franklin, and the other by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, calls for ousting both Durham and Armstrong, D-Knoxville.

Durham has been accused in an investigative report by state Attorney General Herbert Slatery of sexually harassing 22 women legislative staffers, lobbyists and interns. Armstrong goes on trial Tuesday on federal tax evasion charges that prosecutors contend involve profits from a cigarette tax increase he supported as a lawmaker.

Casada said in a telephone interview Sunday that he was a bit surprised at the scant signatures so far and will confer “mid-week” with House Speaker Beth Harwell to consider the possibility of extending the deadline for signing the petitions that is currently set for Friday.

But he also said that, should the signature drive fall short, he would accept that decision as “what the majority wants.” Continue reading

Forum includes Armstrong and Durham doings, not Daniel assault charge

State Rep. Martin Daniel would not discuss a misdemeanor assault charged filed against him by former Rep. Steve Hall in a House District 18 Republican candidate forum Thursday night, reports the News Sentinel.

Daniel wouldn’t discuss the confrontation (with media prior to the event). One reporter asked him if the case wasn’t affecting other issues in the campaign.

“That’s a little bit of a stretch,” Daniel said.

When the program began, club President Brian Hornback said questions involving the case would not be addressed by Daniel upon advice of his attorney. Hornback also asked the candidates’ staff members to refrain from asking questions.

But Daniel, Hall and another candidate on hand, James Corcoran, were asked whether legislators facing legal or moral issues should be removed from office.

All the candidates agreed the question was difficult to answer. Corcoran said there are “a lot of things out there,” particularly criminal activity.

“I don’t intend to engage in illegal activity,” he said.

Another questioner asked about removing state Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, who faces trial next week on federal tax evasion charges, and Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, who has suspended his re-election campaign after public release of a state attorney general’s report detailing sexual harassment of 22 women.

Some legislators have called for a special session to expel Durham so he won’t get a state pension. Some want to include Armstrong if he is convicted.

Hall said Durham hasn’t been convicted of anything and doesn’t even know his accusers. Armstrong is going to trial, but if convicted, Hall said he would say yes to Armstrong’s removal.

Corcoran said he is concerned about the behavior of both lawmakers and that hearings might be conducted to find out the truth.

“I don’t know whether they’ve done what they’re accused of,” he said.

Daniel said he had been appointed by House Speaker Beth Harwell to a task force to require higher education codes of conduct to be based on due process, which is what he supports. He said he would support removal of Durham if Durham has improperly used his position and would support removal of Armstrong if Armstrong used the office to benefit himself.

Special session signature drive may fall short

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick says a drive to get 66 signatures on petitions calling a special August session of the Legislature may fall short, according to the Times-Free Press. The current deadline for signing is Aug. 5.

The first petition is aimed at expelling scandal-ridden Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, about whom a number of state Capitol interns, staffers and lobbyists accused of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior in an investigation by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery.

Petition No. 2 targets both Durham and Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, about to go on federal trial next month on fraud and tax evasion charges.

As of Wednesday morning, just four of the 66 members needed to call the Republican-controlled House into special session have signed the Durham-only petition.

Likewise, only four lawmakers have signed the competing petition for a special session that would seek to oust both Durham and Armstrong. The Democrat set to go on trial early next month (Aug.2) on charges he schemed to help pass a cigarette tax increase and bought $250,000 worth of stamps at the old rate and paid no federal taxes on his gains.

…McCormick, R-Chattanooga, is spearheading the Durham-only effort. House Republican Caucus Chairman Glenn Casada of Franklin, a Durham mentor, later began pushing the second petition aimed at expelling both Durham and Armstrong.

In an interview today, McCormick said there may be problems in getting the necessary two thirds of House members — 66 of 99 representatives — to agree to either petition.

“I have had some people who’ve shown some resistance based on the idea that they don’t want to drag the victims of Durham in particular, the victims of what he has done, out in the limelight,” McCormick said in an interview today. “I have had some resistance based on that.

“So we may have trouble getting to 66,” McCormick added. “I just don’t know. But I think this will flush everybody out pretty quick.”

Both petitions became available only late last week. Officials say the task of getting signatures has been complicated because House rules do not permit electronic signatures on petitions by lawmakers seeking to call themselves into special session.

…Some lawmakers say they are hoping they can print out the first page of the special session petition, physically sign it, and mail it to legislative leaders and be counted. McCormick, however, said he wasn’t sure about that.

Haslam leaves Durham ouster to legislators

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
CAMDEN, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday renewed his call for state Rep. Jeremy Durham to resign but says he won’t speed up the process by issuing the call for a special legislative session to oust him.

Haslam told reporters after a grant announcement that he will leave it to lawmakers to decide on calling the special session. If the governor doesn’t issue the call, it takes two-thirds of legislators in both chambers to convene one.

Haslam noted that the state constitution requires the same threshold to oust a member.

“If I have to call them in, that probably means they can’t get the votes because that means they couldn’t get the signatures,” Haslam said. Continue reading

Casada pushes Armstrong ouster petition

As House leaders collect signatures required to call a special legislative session to expel Rep. Jeremy Durham, the former mentor to the embattled Franklin Republican continues to push for the ouster of a Democrat, reports The Tennessean.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, is now circulating his own petition for a special session that includes the names of both Durham and Rep. Joe Armstrong. Armstrong, D-Knoxville, is under federal indictment on fraud and tax evasion charges.

“Just as Rep. Durham lied to me and betrayed the trust of this Caucus with his actions, it is plain to see that Rep. Armstrong has also betrayed our trust as a legislative body and used his public office for personal gain,” Casada said in an email Monday to all members of the House GOP caucus.

The move comes after House Speaker Beth Harwell released a petition Friday that only names Durham in its call for a special session. Harwell spokeswoman Kara Owen acknowledged Casada’s desires for Armstrong to be included on the petition Friday, but didn’t immediately say Monday how Casada’s petition may affect the one being circulated by the speaker.

…The current sexual harassment accusations against Durham come from the attorney general’s investigation, which only became public this month, whereas the extent of the allegations against Armstrong have been public since late 2015, Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville said. He questioned why the legislature didn’t pursue ousting Armstrong while it was in session earlier this year, when all the information available now was also available then.

“There’s the concern about really why at this point is Joe being added? If it’s simply politics, then that’s not a reasonable basis to do it now when we should have done it in March,” Sexton said.

Casada agrees the legislature should have moved to boot Armstrong during session.

“We should have done that back then, but we didn’t,” Casada said in a phone interview. “So now we’re cleaning up the mistake. There’s no reason, we just didn’t.”

Casada said he expects members will sign both petitions. He said a special session that included discussion of expelling both members would be truly bipartisan, although he didn’t specify why such a session had to be bipartisan.

“What we’ve got here is two men who have visibly, openly violated public trust. It’s indisputable. They both need to go.” Casada said, calling on Democrats to sign his petition.

Last week (House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike) Stewart, D-Nashville, said any attempt to include Armstrong before the outcome of his trial would be an effort by Republicans to shirk their duty in dealing with Durham.

Sunday column: On a legislator’s plea to ‘lobby me’

In a late night text message to a woman lobbyist, as recorded in a recent state attorney general’s investigative report, state Rep. Jeremy Durham wrote: “I’m bored as hell. Lobby me.”

Such a plea for lobbyist attention is surely not the most offensive of Durham doings recounted in the report on his interaction with 22 women lobbyists, legislative staffers and interns. But maybe it best reflects a subtext in the overall report that delves a bit into the culture – or maybe it’s a subculture — of Tennessee’s Legislatorland.

Says the report at another point:

“The investigation revealed that lobbyists, much like staff members and interns, depend on maintaining a good working relationship with legislators for their livelihood and future success. A lobbyist depends on favorable support from legislators to satisfy and build a client base, and many female lobbyists interviewed described the substantial financial and professional stake they have in avoiding anything that would jeopardize a good relationship with legislators. As Jane Doe #4 put it, lobbyists do not have clients without legislators.” Continue reading

Draft petition would call special session Aug. 15

House Republican leaders are circulating a petition that would call a special session of the Legislature to expel Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin and perhaps Democratic Rep. Joe Armstrong of Knoxville as well, reports The Tennessean.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada began circulating a formal petition empowering “the House of Representatives to consider and act upon a resolution to expel Jeremy Durham from his seat…” Two-thirds of the members of both chambers — 66 in the House and 22 in the Senate — are needed to convene the session at noon on August 15.

The action — the first concrete measure top Republican leaders have taken to get rid of Durham since he suspended his re-election campaign amid allegations of sexual harassment — could also pave the way for the removal of Armstrong, who was indicted last year on federal felony fraud and tax evasion charges.

“I spoke to the Speaker today and the call’s going to be for a special session and the purpose will be not only Jeremy Durham but Joe Armstrong,” Casada said Friday.

“We’ll take one at a time.There will be a resolution for both of them and the charges will be made and they can defend themselves. And that’s how it’ll go down.”

The petition, however, thus far contains no reference to Armstrong (whose trial on federal fraud and tax evasion charges is scheduled to begin Aug. 2).

…House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart said the inclusion of Armstrong is an effort by Republicans to avoid their duty.

“Casada and McCormick in the past have recognized that Armstrong is innocent until proven guilty and any effort to bring Armstrong into this before trial is the latest effort to avoid responsibility for Durham,” he said.

Duplicate petitions for the special session will be in the three House Republican leaders’ offices for lawmakers to sign, Casada said. The signature collection process is not expected to begin in the senate until after the House gets enough support.

As of Friday morning, Casada said he believes enough lawmakers will support the special session.

“I’ve talked to a handful of members and it’s been unanimous on those handful that I’ve talked to that they will come in and sign and call for it. So we’ll see,” Casada said.

Rep. Mitchell: TBI should further investigate Jane Doe#24

News release from House Democratic Caucus
NASHVILLE—Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) today announced that he is filing legislation to repeal the so-called “Jeremy’s law”. (Pub. Ch. 848).

The new law was supposedly designed to prevent frivolous lawsuits, but some feel that it provides a chilling effect that discourages sexual abuse claims.

“Under this new law, should you sue the state and a state employee and lose, you could be forced to pay their attorney’s fees”, Rep. Mitchell said. “Not all lawsuits are successful, but that doesn’t mean that they are frivolous.”

Rep. Mitchell said that the report released this week on Representative Jeremy Durham is a perfect example of how this new law could be used.

“If you look at the report, it’s clear that ‘Jane Doe 24’ is retaliated against by an unjust firing and a refusal to re-hire her. (page 30, Report of the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office for the Article II, 12 AD Hoc Select Committee for the Tennessee Hose of Representatives). Before she could take legal action, she would have to face the possibility that if she sued and lost, she could have to pay a lot of out-of-pocket money.”

Rep. Mitchell said he is asking the TBI to investigate her case and see if any laws were broken in her termination… “That’s sad”, Mitchell added. “There needs to be a price paid for inaction of leadership for not doing something for 3 years.

Durham disputes sex allegations, suspends campaign

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A state representative accused of sexually harassing at least 22 women said Thursday that nearly all of the allegations in an attorney general’s report are either false or taken out of context.

Republican state Rep. Jeremy Durham said he never attempted sexual contact with any of the women whose stories are described in the report. He also said he was suspending his re-election campaign to focus on his family, although he stopped short of resigning his seat.

Reaction from leadership in the supermajority Republican General Assembly was quick, with House Speaker Beth Harwell calling Durham’s denials “insulting to the brave women whose testimony was detailed in the report.” She also said he needs to make it clear that he is not running for re-election. Early primary voting starts Friday, so Durham’s name already is on the ballot.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Durham should resign immediately.

“His actions were beyond disgraceful,” Ramsey said in an emailed statement. “Suspending his campaign but refusing to resign is an affront to the women of this state and the taxpayers who pay his salary.” Continue reading

More on Durham report — quotes and comments

Some passages from the final attorney general’s investigative report on the doings of state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin:

“Representative Durham’s position as the freshman class leader, Majority Party Whip and member of a number of committees, gave him access to legislative staff members, interns, and lobbyists, albeit for different reasons. The investigation revealed that legislative staff members and interns rely on their relationships with legislators for employment and references for future employment opportunities at the Capitol. There was a perception among some staff members we interviewed that those who displease a legislator may risk loss of those opportunities, if bad references are shared among the legislative members.

“The power differential between a legislator and a staff member or intern is more apparent than that between a lobbyist, who is independently employed, and a legislator. The investigation revealed that lobbyists, much like staff members and interns, depend on maintaining a good working relationship with legislators for their livelihood and future success. A lobbyist depends on favorable support from legislators to satisfy and build a client base, and many female lobbyists interviewed described the substantial financial and professional stake they have in avoiding anything that would jeopardize a good relationship with legislators. As Jane Doe #4 put it, lobbyists do not have clients without legislators.

“Consequently, Representative Durham was able to use his position as an elected official to approach female staff members, interns, and staff members in a manner that they would normally reject as inappropriate and sexual in nature.”

–“I’m bored as hell. Lobby me.” Late night text message to woman lobbyist.

–“I’m trying to elevate our relations to a more amiable situation.” Another text message to a lady lobbyist.

–“Sounds like someone is a church skipping heathen. No wonder you wanted Medicaid expanded.” Another text message.

“I’d like to see you naked around midnight.” Message to a “20-year-old college student/political worker” — an intern at the time — who said she had sex with Durham at his office.

Continue reading