NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A Republican colleague of state Rep. Jeremy Durham is considering creating a third party over House Speaker Beth Harwell’s public statements about the embattled lawmaker.
The Tennessean reports (https://tnne.ws/1YyGgPi ) that Rep. Rick Womick is demanding Harwell give a full explanation of why she had the Legislature’s human resources chief discuss “appropriate behavior” with Durham. Harwell would not give specific reasons for why she asked the discussion to take place.
“Is there proof, or is there evidence?” Womick said.
“If they don’t provide the evidence or produce the facts, it’s going to split this caucus,” the Murfreesboro Republican said. “And I’ll be leading the split. And you’ll have three parties up there instead of two.”
Womick is a longtime Harwell critic, who was defeated on a 57-15 vote in his bid to replace her as speaker last year.
Republicans have scheduled a Jan. 12 vote about whether to replace Durham as majority whip following revelations that prosecutors sought charges against him on allegations of changing the dates on two prescriptions. A grand jury last year declined to indict the lawmaker.
About three months later, Durham wrote a character reference on behalf of a former youth pastor who pleaded guilty in federal court to child porn possession and later to a state charge of statutory rape of a 16-year-old congregant.
Republican Rep. David Alexander of Winchester last week 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
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.
But the Tennessean’s survey of House Republicans found few other lawmakers willing to go on the record about their position on Durham’s ongoing leadership role. Most of the GOP lawmakers - including Durham himself - did not respond to the paper’s queries.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, who last week had discussed a potential resignation with Durham, told the paper that he now wants his fellow Williamson County lawmaker to remain as whip.
“I don’t think that those two incidents should or do disqualify him from leadership,” Casada said.
Reps. Jon Lundberg of Bristol and John Holsclaw of Elizabethton, said that leaders should be held to a higher standard.
Holsclaw said he thinks Durham should be removed because there is a “certain code of conduct” required for that leadership position.
“People in leadership positions in our caucus really need to have the highest standards of ethical behavior,” Lundberg said. “I think there are concerns on judgment, particularly now.”
Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia said Durham has done a “very good job” as whip, and said she wants a better understanding of the facts before making up her mind.
“I believe we need to address facts only and not ‘pile on’ because the media or the other party ‘smells blood in the water,” Butt said. “Cowards ‘pile on.’
“Any actions considered by our Republican caucus should be based on facts and not based on the court of public opinion,” she said.
Information from: The Tennessean, https://www.tennessean.com
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