- - Sunday, July 10, 2016

Jeremy Durham was on the fast track for Republican politics in Tennessee. A young attorney, he won election to a newly redrawn state House of Representatives district in 2012. He was named the “Freshman of the Year” by the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Nashville bureau chief in 2013. He won awards from the American Conservative Union and in 2014, he was elected Majority Whip.

But something unfortunate happened on the road to political success for Durham.

He did what his constituents wanted him to do instead of what the Republican establishment wanted him to do.

In 2014, liberal Republican Gov. Bill Haslam was re-elected and entered his second term. Under Tennessee law, governors are limited to two terms. As seems to be the tradition in Tennessee, upon entering his second term, Mr. Haslam made a sharp left turn. Mr. Haslam wanted to expand Obamacare in Tennessee through the “Insure Tennessee” program and he wanted to expand the Common Core educational program.

The voters in Mr. Durham’s 65th House District, which comprises Williamson County, an affluent suburb of Nashville, did not approve. And Mr. Durham did what the voters of his district expected him to do. He led the fight against both Insure Tennessee and Common Core.

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell was not pleased. She had championed both causes. She also has her eyes on the governor’s race in 2018.  Ms. Harwell and the Establishment Republicans decided to get even.

She seized upon rumors going around Legislative Plaza in Nashville that Durham sent inappropriate text messages to female staffers and launched what many legislators are now referring to as a “witch hunt.” The fact no one had complained did not stop Ms. Harwell.

Ms. Harwell launched an investigation. She asked the Attorney General to investigate Mr. Durham. When she realized she probably did not have the authority to do that, she created an ad hoc committee to investigate Mr. Durham. Amazingly, all four members of that committee were hostile to Mr. Durham.

The legislative session ended in April and absent a special session being called, the duties of the legislature are done until next January when a new legislature will be seated. But that is not good enough for the establishment, as they want to end the career of a promising conservative.

Last week, the ad hoc committee announced it would meet on Wednesday and presumably release a report from the Attorney General on the investigation. Amazingly, this meeting is coming just days before early voting begins for the legislative primary election on Aug. 4. Mr. Durham responded on Friday by filing suit and seeking a restraining order to keep the Attorney General, Speaker Harwell and the committee from releasing a report that is calculated to help his primary opponent beat him.

Mr. Durham has an opponent in the primary. He is a first time candidate, whose biggest supporter is a group called “Stand for Children.” That is a liberal group based in Nashville, headed by a former Obama campaign staffer and later Obama White House staffer.

Conservatives in Tennessee are watching the outcome of the Durham fight closely. The Tennessee Republican Party is facing a civil war between conservatives and more liberal establishment factions.

No matter what happens in the election, the establishment wing of the Republican Party is sending a message to conservatives. That message is, if you stand for your conservative values in the legislature, we will destroy you.

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