Tag Archives: scandals

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.

Harwell joins in backing special session to boot Durham

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s Republican House speaker says she now supports convening a special session to expel a state lawmaker accused of sexually harassing at least 22 women.

Democrats this week called for the special session in order to deny Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham a pension of more than $300 per month even if he’s not re-elected this year.

Speaker Beth Harwell initially opposed that call on the basis of cost, but said Thursday that she changed her mind after speaking with House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and Republican Caucus Chairman Gled Casada. She urged Durham to resign to save taxpayer money.

Durham suspended his re-election campaign earlier this month after a state attorney general’s office released a report containing numerous allegations of sexual harassment. The lawmaker has denied nearly all of the allegations.

Further from The Tennessean:
“I have spoken with Leader McCormick and Chairman Casada, and I am supportive of their effort to call a special session. While it is up to the voters of 65th District to determine whether Rep. Durham is on the ballot in November, it is up to the members of the Tennessee General Assembly to determine whether he should be expelled, which would ensure he does not receive retirement benefits,” said Harwell, in an email statement to The Tennessean.

Pensions begin at age 55 and are based on lawmakers’ years of service with a cap of 90 percent of their final salary, which is currently set at $20,884 annually. The current monthly rate per year is $86.06 so Durham would receive $344.24 per month, or $4,130.88 per year, according to rates provided by Connie Ridley, the director of Legislative Administration.

Note: Previous post HERE.

McCormick calls for special session to expel Durham — and maybe Armstrong

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick today joined Democratic legislators in calling for a special session of the state Legislature to assure that Rep. Jeremy Durham is expelled from office so that he will not be eligible for a state pension.

McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said in a telephone interview that he was already working toward a special session, which he envisions as coming in September, when House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville held a news conference earlier Wednesday on the subject.

McCormick said a September gathering would come after the scheduled August trial of Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, on federal tax evasion charges.

“If he is convicted, I hope Joe Armstrong will do the right thing and resign,” said McCormick. “If not, we can deal with that, too – get two cats with one stone, do all our scandals in one day and be done with them.”

Stewart noted that, if Durham remains in office until his current term expires in November, he will automatically be vested in the state pension plan and eligible to receive a lifetime pension of $300 per month.

Durham recently suspended his reelection campaign after public release of a state attorney general’s report detailing sexual harassment of 22 women, but did not resign. Under state law, a legislator’s term officially ends on election day in November.

“Why should we force taxpayers, including many victims identified by the attorney general, to foot the bill for a pension for Rep. Durham’s bad behavior?,” said Durham. “Speaker Harwell needs to call for a special session right now to keep the victims from being victimized again by supporting his retirement.”

McCormick said Stewart’s call was “good timing” because he “had the same idea” and is already working with fellow Republican legislators on putting together a special session call.

“We should do this on a bipartisan basis,” he said.

McCormick said he believes expulsion votes could be handled in just one day, at limited expense to taxpayers. He also said Legislators could consider revising the state law that allows legislators to vest in the state retirement system in just four years, perhaps switching to a five-year requirement that applies for most other state employees.

Armstrong is scheduled to go on trial Aug. 2 U.S. District Court at Knoxville. He faces no opposition in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary and no Republican is running against him in the November general election. He will face independent candidate Pete Drew, a former state representative who has identified with both major parties at times past, in November.

Note: Previous post on Stewart’s call HERE.

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: Harwell had ‘a passion to get rid of me’

The Tennessean has published a transcript of Rep. Jeremy Durham’s statement to the media on Thursday. An excerpt:

At this time, I also want to be clear that I never engaged in any sexual contact with any of the individuals in the report, nor did I attempt sexual contact with any of the individuals in the report.

Had this investigation remotely resembled any legitimate court of law, I would have been able to specifically understand the allegations against me, understand who made the allegations, present my own evidence, cross-examine witnesses and successfully refute most of the testimony.

But I was purposely never given that opportunity until after the report had been released.

Instead, Speaker Harwell ensured that I was tried and convicted in the court of public opinion before I could even read the report. Her passion to get rid of me has been completely consistent since December. I hope my fellow independent thinkers in the House understand that I might not be the last person to be deprived of due process.

Let me be clear by reiterating that I have learned from my mistakes. Right now I’m focused on spending time with my family during what has been a very difficult time for us. But most importantly I love my wife and I must focus on spending time with my family.

Therefore I am suspending my campaign for re-election to the House of Representatives.

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

Panel leaves expulsion decision on ‘Pants Candy’ Durham to voters

The special committee investigating state Rep. Jeremy Durham concluded Wednesday that the Williamson County Republican has engaged in “disorderly behavior” that an investigative report says included having sex in his Legislative Plaza office, frequent intoxication and sexually aggressive dealings with multiple women.

The committee’s two-page final report, followed by the 48-page final attorney general’s investigative report, have been posted online HERE.

The committee’s report says Durham’s behavior warrants his expulsion from the General Assembly, but left a decision on his ouster to voters in his district.

The panel, chaired by Rep. Steve McDaniel, adopted on voice vote and without discussion a final report with those conclusions following brief presentations by Attorney General Herbert Slatery and legislative attorney Doug Himes. McDaniel then declared the special Ad Hoc Committee dissolved.

Slatery, who led an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Durham, outlined the results. With some things being redacted, it is being made public. Himes presented a draft final report that was adopted.

Here’s the AP story:

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An investigation of a Tennessee state legislator released Wednesday found he took advantage of his position to sexually harass at least 22 women, including a then-20-year-old college student who told investigators Rep. Jeremy Durham plied her with a cooler full of beer and had sex with her in his office in 2014. Another woman interviewed was a lobbyist who nicknamed Durham “Pants Candy” after she said he rummaged in his pocket before suggestively offering her a dirty, unwrapped mint.

The 48-page final report outlines a pattern of behavior in which Durham, 32, a married Republican lawmaker from the wealthy Nashville suburb of Franklin, tried to initiate romantic and sexual contact with female staff, interns, lobbyists and political workers. Several of the women discussed feeling as though they could not say no to Durham because he held a position of power over them. None of the women ever filed a formal complaint against him, and many told investigators they felt that doing so would hurt their careers. Continue reading