NASHVILLE -- Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, called a Republican Senate colleague's affair with a 22-year-old legislative intern "unconscionable" on Saturday and said, "I'm not going to say that resignation from the Senate is going to be out of order."
But Lt. Gov. Ramsey, who is Senate speaker, said the decision of whether Sen. Paul Stanley, R-Germantown, leaves the Senate is ultimately up to the 47-year-old lawmaker and his Shelby County constituents.
They were his first remarks on the scandal, which according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation began with the married senator's affair with McKensie Morrison and ended in April with an alleged blackmail plot against the senator by Ms. Morrison's angry boyfriend, Joel Watts.
The affair and alleged blackmail dominated the state Capitol most of last week. Lt. Gov. Ramsey's comments came in a question-and-answer session with reporters prior to the Tennessee Republican Party's Statesmen's Dinner, a fundraiser.
Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Ramsey, who is running for governor, said they don't think the Stanley matter will prove to be a long-term distraction.
In speaking to reporters, the lieutenant governor revealed he told Sen. Stanley he needed to give up the powerful Senate Commerce Committee chairman's post that the lieutenant governor appointed him to earlier this year.
"It's sufficient (action) right now," Lt. Gov. Ramsey said of the move. "And I'm not going to say that resignation from the Senate is going to be out of order, let's put it that way. But you know, I obviously am taking it one step at a time, and I think that's significant now until Paul kind of gets his life back in order."
But Lt. Gov. Ramsey said what ultimately happens "is really between him and his constituents more or less. I don't appoint him as senator. I do appoint him as committee chair. That's the only thing I have control over so I asked him to step down."
Lt. Gov. Ramsey also revealed that Sen. Stanley told him in late May or early June that he and his wife, Kristi, planned to separate. But Sen. Stanley never mentioned the affair or the blackmail plot, Lt. Gov. Ramsey said, and he was "caught completely off guard" when news erupted over Mr. Watts being bound over to the Davidson County grand jury on charges he tried to extort $10,000 from Sen. Stanley.
Another gubernatorial candidate, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., told reporters later "these matters are between Sen. Stanley, his wife and the voters of their district. And that is really where that should stand."
The Chattanooga congressman likened it to recent incidents in Washington, D.C. He said if he or another Republican were governor and faced with a similar situation, "You try to encourage people to come to a conclusion that may be helpful to them and your party. But that's theoretical."
He said "we have leaders of our party, but you'd have to ask maybe Lt. Gov. Ramsey about that. He'd be the best person."
Meanwhile, Rep. Wamp noted sex scandals affecting U.S Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, saying it is "disappointing for all of us in elective office when another person falls ... because we all sink another inch."
The congressman lives with Sen. Ensign in a Christian fellowship group home on Capitol Hill. He received a $5,000 contribution from Sen. Ensign after news of his affair came to light.
He said he received contributions from about 30 colleagues and the Ensign contribution "has absolutely nothing to do with the mistakes that he had made."
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...