Most of what I initially heard about Rep. Durham’s alleged sexual harassment and texting saga has been gained through media reports such as the one that surfaced in The Tennessean, and others that quickly followed.
To be honest I haven’t followed the inner workings of Tennessee’s Capitol Hill since I left office in 2009. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve spoken to a number of former colleagues on both sides of the aisle, who for the most part, agree with my perspective. They just can’t state it without the fear of negative political repercussions.
For those who may not remember, I resigned my state senate seat in 2009 after a failed extortion attempt that I reported to the Tennessee Bureau Investigation. This incident became public and exposed a five-week affair I had with an intern. Ultimately, the facts revealed that she also had a boyfriend (the extortionist) who eventually pled guilty and was convicted for committing a felony. Having been in the middle of a media onslaught I understand the intense political pressure to resign. The scandal was inconvenient for some of my colleagues—which provides me with a perspective few have experienced.
If for one second you think I’m defending Durham then you’re mistaken. If he did anything close to what is reported or rumored then he should immediately step forward and admit his mistakes. I did and it was difficult but important.
Here are my observations on the Durham story so far:
The Tennessean – The initial reporting of this story was a hatchet job. Having worked as a political journalist and editor gives me insight on what a well-researched and written story looks like. It’s one thing to cite an “anonymous” source, but you’ve got to be extremely careful how and when such sources are used.
What exactly did the text messages say and in what context were they written? Where they initiated by Durham or the sources in question?
The article reports that two women provided copies of the texts [to whom]. The reporter and his editors should have asked to see the text messages on their phones so they could read the entire conversation. If that did happen it should have been reported. According of the initial article, the third female only provided a verbal explanation of a conversation.
Are all of the sources credible? Asking the question is not an indictment of the individuals; it’s a valid question that reporters and editors must answer.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that these women were misstating their case, but rather, that, The Tennessean should have reported the story differently. Per a Society of Professional Journalist white paper on anonymous sources, questioning a source’s motive is paramount to “good journalism.” It clarifies:
“When someone asks to provide information off the record, be sure the reason is not to boost [his or her] own position by undermining someone else’s.”
Another question that wasn’t asked, is: Why are coming forward now? Protecting sources is paramount to journalists, but being objective is equally important.
If these women’s stories hold water, then by all means report it– but they must understand the consequences too. Rarely can you sit in the cheap seats and make accusations without being identified.
The bottom line is this story helps The Tennessean generate thousands of online hits, which drives advertising dollars and income in today’s media environment, which is critical for a news organization’s bottom line.
House Legislative Leaders – And here is where The Tennessean gets it right; GOP Leaders most definitely bungled this incident. I don’t have time to list all the ways they’ve screwed up their response, but here are the most obvious.
One of leadership’s roles is to keep a close eye on their members. If any of these accusations are true, they should have attempted to intervene when the allegations first surfaced. Apparently that did happen.
Per another article in The Tennessean, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) was approached by two different women (we don’t know if they were the same two in the first story) who said they had received texts and phone calls from Durham. House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) later learned of the reports, although it’s unclear if McCormick relayed the information. She apparently did ask Connie Ridley, a top legislative administrator, to speak with Durham but she should have done so herself.
Rep. Glen Casada (R-Williamson County), the House Republican Caucus leader should have also spoke with Durham, not only because of his position but also because both are from Williamson County. If Casada didn’t get the information and answer he was looking for, then he should have also discussed the issue with Harwell and McCormick. Under no circumstances should Casada have tried to contact the women; that appeared as if he were trying to suppress information. Maybe other colleagues went to Durham and said what was circulating wasn’t good and that he needed to straighten up.
One of my friends came to me once and I wish I had heeded their advice at the time. There are 99 members in the House and 33 in the Senate and it’s virtually impossible to police everyone’s activities, however, the legislative plaza is a tiny world and rumors move quickly.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey – Ron is a friend and a good family man – maybe one of the best in the legislature – but he inserted himself where he does not belong.
There is an invisible line between the two chambers. Regardless of political party, the leaders should respect the body down the hall. Part of that respect involves knowing when to stay out of the other’s business.
It’s one thing for Ramsey to opine about his desire for Durham to resign, but when he repeated a rumor to the press about an alleged affair Durham had with a former female legislator who resigned last December, that was inappropriate and could even lead to slander and defamation charges.
During my first six years in the Legislature I served in the House when Jimmy Naifeh was Speaker. Differ with him politically all you want – and I did many times – but I respected him. He knew how to run a Chamber and a caucus.
If the late Lt. Gov. John Wilder had publically inserted himself into the business of a Naifeh controlled House, a private cussing would have been the smallest reaction. A more predictable one would have been Naifeh publically telling the Senate Speaker to “mind his damn business.” Naifeh knew way too much about his Senate colleagues for them to mettle in his affairs.
Even if the rumors turn out to be true, Ramsey had no business repeating it to the press.
What if I came forward with the names of every sitting legislator I know—who for a fact– has had an affair in Nashville?
I could also release a list of people of whom “I’m fairly certain” have had an affair.
I could also list those “I’ve heard may have had an affair.”
If that were the case, we’d be down to a mere handful of sitting legislators and Capitol Hill politicos.
Ramsey repeating the rumor gave the press permission to write it but then why stop there. Why not list all rumors of indiscretions? That’s not his job nor mine.
State Democratic Chairwoman Mary Mancini – She called for the three top members of the House Leadership to resign.
Are you kidding me?
Should Democrats in Congress have resigned when former President Bill Clinton lied about his encounter with Monica Lewinsky?
Mancini is obviously anxious to insert her name into the fray, but she’s a bit out of her element. I suspect there are a few Democrats in the legislature (albeit far fewer than there used to be) who have engaged in some “inappropriate” behavior.
If I were Mancini I would sit this one out. If the situation eventually goes south for the Republicans she’ll have plenty of time to crow. And she should have her remarks prepared because her time to shine may be right around the corner.
Overall, and finally, what the public should understand is that behind personal tragedy is political opportunity.
Durham’s greatest political problem is he’s a major distraction to his fellow legislators and the most expedient course of action is to rid themselves of him. Do they suggest this because they care about Durham’s welfare? Hell no.
He’s a distraction for the leadership’s political ends.
But Durham was not elected to his legislative seat by leadership or by his colleagues. He’s responsible to the 60,000 plus people he represents. And he should be speaking with many of them right now.
As for Durham’s caucus leadership position, that’s another matter altogether. They have the ability and responsibility to elect those who best represent the caucus and you have to respect the will of the caucus whether you agree with them or not. Durham resigning was the right move or they should have removed him by vote.
The talk about “taking a Vote of Expulsion” is ridiculous and treads on thin ice.
Only two legislators have been removed from office, one in 1866 and the other in 1980—and– that was only after extended hearings.
The first question is, what grounds does the legislature have to expel Durham? Having an extra-martial affair while in office? As I’ve already mentioned, this charge would then include several members, who also would have to resign.
Sending inappropriate text messages? It’s possible even more members could be expelled.
Being stupid? Even more members gone.
My guess is Speaker Harwell called on the AG’s office to investigate Durham’s actions to put additional pressure on him, while also hoping they uncover ethical, civil or criminal activity to have ample grounds to expel him. This also forces the legislature to make policy changes with the AG’s office starting the process.
This entire situation is a sorry spectacle. Regardless of the outcome, hopefully the women involved, Durham’s wife, and Durham will find healing and move on to build productive and fulfilling lives.
Until then, everyone so far has turned this situation into sausage making at its worst.