- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee’s House Republican caucus will meet next month to reconsider embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham’s leadership position over what one colleague called his “questionable judgment.”

Rep. David Alexander of Winchester wrote a formal letter to ask for a vote on Durham’s future as House whip, and he quickly got the four additional requests he needed. Caucus leaders decided Thursday to schedule the Jan. 12 meeting.

In a phone interview, Alexander noted that the House whip is responsible for managing the re-election efforts of Republican incumbents, and he said negative attention on Durham could hurt those efforts.

“If I was a rich person and I was thinking of giving money to a political party or a cause, it would give me pause if those people allowed somebody with questionable judgment to be in their leadership,” Alexander said.

Durham did not return email or text messages seeking comment.

Durham’s role has come under scrutiny following revelations he wrote a character reference for a youth pastor convicted of child porn possession and statutory rape. Prosecutors also sought charges against the lawmaker for altering the dates on two prescriptions, though a grand jury last year declined to indict him.

House Speaker Beth Harwell said she had previously asked the General Assembly’s human resources chief speak to Durham about “appropriate professional behavior, and all that entails” at the Legislature. She declined to elaborate on what incidents had caused her to ask for that discussion.

“I just recommended that she talk to him about professional behavior, and she did that,” said Harwell, who stressed that no formal complaints had been filed with her office.

Connie Ridley, the director of legislative administration, described the conversation with Durham as “cordial.”

“I let him know that the reason I had come to him was that I was getting a fair amount of feedback from a variety of sources about his behavior,” she said in a phone interview. “I stressed to him during that meeting that it could very well have an impact on his reputation and the reputation of the institution.”

Ridley declined to elaborate on the specific behavior she was addressing.

Harwell said the move to remove Durham as majority whip is “an issue for the caucus to decide.”

“This is not a decision that falls on the speaker,” she said. “I control committee chairmanships, I don’t control this.”

Over the weekend, residents in Durham’s Williamson County district received anonymous robocalls demanding his resignation. The calls followed the public release of investigative documents revealing that prosecutors had sought charges against Durham on allegations that he changed the dates on two prescriptions. A grand jury declined to indict the lawmaker in January.

About three months later, Durham wrote to urge a federal judge in Chattanooga to consider child porn defendant Joseph Todd Neill’s entire life, and not just the “ill-conceived act” he had pleaded guilty to.

The images had been found on Neill’s phone in an investigation into a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old congregant at North Fork Baptist Church in Shelbyville. Neill was sentenced to more than three years in the federal child porn case, and later pleaded guilty in state court to statutory rape by an authority figure.

Durham said last week that his letter “in no way condoned his illegal actions and clearly stated that he deserved to be punished for those acts.”

“I simply stated facts regarding his prior life serving others as a Christian missionary.”

 

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