- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A Tennessee lawmaker whose questionable behavior nearly got him ousted from Republican leadership in the state House earlier this month announced Sunday that he was resigning as majority whip.

State Rep. Jeremy Durham then went on Twitter to announce he wasn’t resigning from the leadership position, only to return two hours later with a slightly-edited statement to confirm he was stepping down.

Republican House leaders had expected the announcement as early as Sunday morning, and the on-again-off-again nature of the resignation caught them off guard.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, had immediately accepted the resignation, calling it a “good decision” before Durham appeared to backtrack.

The back-and-forth came the same day The Tennessean newspaper reported that three women who work at the Legislature received inappropriate text messages from the lawmaker. Two women received messages from Durham’s phone number after midnight asking for them to send him pictures, the newspaper reported.

Durham told The Tennessean he didn’t remember sending any of the messages.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said he had been in communication with Durham much of the day. Casada said he had urged his longtime ally to resign from leadership.

“It is the mature thing to do,” he said.

After the statement was released, Casada said Durham contacted him to say it had only been a draft. The apparent change of heart was “certainly a surprise to me,” Casada said. The caucus later put out a slightly revised “approved” version of Durham’s letter blaming what he called the “relentless media-driven agenda” for causing unneeded distractions to the caucus.

Durham did not return messages from The Associated Press.

Previous revelations included that Durham in 2014 wrote a character reference on behalf of a youth pastor facing sentencing in federal court after pleading guilty to child porn possession. The defendant later pleaded guilty in state court to statutory rape of a parishioner who was 16 at the time. The Associated Press had also obtained investigative records that showed prosecutors earlier in 2014 sought prescription fraud charges against the lawmaker, but that a grand jury declined to bring an indictment.

The House majority whip is in charge of incumbents’ re-election efforts, and some Republicans worried that Durham remaining in that role could make donors skittish. But an earlier bid to oust Durham faltered on a caucus rule requiring two-thirds of members vote in favor of proceeding with the effort. While 48 of 73 Republicans voted to move ahead with the ouster proceedings, that total was one vote shy of the 49 needed to meet the threshold.

Before Durham knew the vote totals in the caucus meeting, he derided what he called the “kangaroo-court proceeding” and blamed all negative attention of his activities on the “liberal media.”

House Speaker Beth Harwell last fall had the Legislature’s human resources chief speak to Durham about unspecified behavioral issues. Durham brushed aside questions about that conversation.

“I didn’t know what she was talking about,” Durham said after the caucus meeting.

Durham had a history of bouncing back from career-threatening actions even before his election to General Assembly in 2012.

As a college sophomore at the University of Tennessee in 2005, Durham was arrested for breaking into the home of the new boyfriend of a woman who had broken up with him a week earlier. Durham confessed breaking into the home and taking items including a guitar, compact disks and the license plate of the man’s car. Prosecutors and school officials didn’t pursue the case.

Within 16 months of that brush with the law, Durham declared himself a candidate for student body president running on a campus-safety platform. Durham finished third, and his heavy spending ran afoul of the school’s campaign finance laws, leading 16 students running on the same ticket to being disqualified from taking their seats on the student body Senate.

Durham nevertheless rose in the ranks to eventually head the Tennessee Young Republicans, and parlayed the connections forged in that role to give him the inside track for a new House seat created through legislative redistricting in 2011.

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