Some Republican activists want an explanation from U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais as he approaches a week of silence on court records showing he supported his ex-wife's two abortions before declaring himself "a consistent supporter of pro-life values."
"He lied. That's about all you can say," said Liz Holiway, a Tennessee Republican Party state executive committeewoman who represents portions of DesJarlais' 4th District. "Not saying that a lot of other politicians haven't. But I think something should be done."
On Thursday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press published court records that included the abortion revelations and DesJarlais' own admission that he had sexual relationships with two patients, three coworkers and a pharmaceutical saleswoman while serving as chief of staff at Grandview Medical Center.
"Obviously we're disappointed and disturbed that this has all come to light," said longtime GOP activist Oscar Brock. "It's not good stuff. He needs to explain."
Most of Tennessee's top Republican officeholders have stayed quiet on DesJarlais despite their own anti-abortion rhetoric and appeals to "family values." But on Monday, Gov. Bill Haslam joined numerous rank-and-file activists in questioning how effective DesJarlais can be as a congressman since the news broke.
"I think the congressman's decision is, can I effectively represent the people who elected me," Haslam told The Tennessean after a public appearance in Nashville. "It's not my call. It's his decision."
Among other looming questions, DesJarlais hasn't addressed how the two abortions affected his current belief system or voting record. Ten years before the National Right to Life awarded him a 100 percent voting score, the congressman testified one of his ex-wife's abortions occurred because "things weren't going well between us, and it was a mutual decision."
"That's wrong," said Connie Griffitts, a GOP executive committeewoman from Marion County who believes abortion should be outlawed except in cases of rape or incest.
Former GOP state senator and Family Action Council of Tennessee President David Fowler said DesJarlais needs to address his own "personal failures and ethical violations."
"When an elected official experiences moral failures or past moral failures become public," he wrote in a statement to the Times Free Press, "the issue is whether there is evidence of a broken and contrite heart and a corresponding demonstrated change in behavior."
For the fifth straight day, DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson declined to respond to requests for comment. Many in the party said that's the wrong approach, adding the congressman is missing an opportunity to portray himself as a changed man.
"There are so many things that are out there that people need to hear from him about what happened," said Emily Beaty, a state executive committeewoman from Bradley County who works in marketing. "He should probably just be truthful. That would be helpful to him as a person, not just as a politician."
Other Republicans on the state executive committee, all of whom said they consider themselves anti-abortion, said issues from 12 years ago -- even the congressman's sworn testimony -- aren't relevant now.
Tim Rudd, a Realtor who resides in Murfreesboro, said the media should "get off DesJarlais" and investigate President Barack Obama's background, education and "what makes him tick."
"We're talking about a personal issue in his former marriage," Rudd said of DesJarlais. "That did not form the man he is today."
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at email@example.com or 423-757-6610.
Chris Carroll covers federal politics for the Times Free Press. A Chattanooga native, he went to Red Bank High School and graduated with honors from East Tennessee State University. Chris investigated violent crime, municipal government and hospitals before taking the political beat. For tornado coverage, he and Pam Sohn won a first-place Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors deadline reporting award. In 2010, Chris won the Golden Press Card Award of Merit and another deadline reporting ...
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