NASHVILLE _ State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, plans to announce Wednesday that he will challenge embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., in next year’s Republican primary.
In a statement obtained Tuesday, the 56-year-old Tracy, an insurance agency owner, says “it is with a heavy heart that I have decided to challenge the incumbent from my own party. For the good of the people of the 4th Congressional District who hold our Tennessee values dear, a change in leadership is a must.”
Tracy said a “place like Washington, D.C., requires someone of integrity and character.”
DesJarlais, a Jasper physician first elected in 2010, has been embroiled in revelations that he slept with at least two patients in 2000, urged one of them who said she was pregnant by him to get an abortion and other issues.
Tracy, has scheduled a news conference Wednesday morning in Murfreesboro where he will formally declare he is running. Murfreesboro is in Rutherford County, the largest county in the 16-county district.
He becomes the first Republican to declare he is running against DesJarlais, who touts his anti-abortion positions but has been caught up in a personal scandal surrounding his personal life.
Some of the issues came up in DesJarlais’ 2012 campaign. The congressman acknowledged the veracity of a partial transcript of a recorded conversation in which he urged woman who said she was pregnant to go to Atlanta to get an abortion.
But DesJarlais has maintained he knew the woman wasn’t pregnant and was trying to bluff her into an admission. But the woman testified under oath in DesJarlais’ 2001 divorce trial that she had been pregnant. She refused to say whether she had gotten an abortion.
A transcript of the divorce trial was released a week after the election after a motion was filed by the Tennessee Democratic Party.
DesJarlais also acknowledged under oath during his divorce trial that he had supported his then wife’s decision to get two abortions. He testified one came about due to concerns that an experimental drug she was taking held “potential risks.” He backed the other abortion after she returned from a military stint in Saudi Arabia a few years before they married in 1995.
DesJarlais is currently fending off complaints before the state Department of Health regarding his acknowledged affairs with at least two patients and prescribing painkillers to one of them. Another complaint is pending before a congressional ethics panel that he lied to voters during his 2012 election about aspects of his affairs.
In November, DesJarlais beat Democrat Eric Stewart of Winchester with 55.94 percent of the vote versus Stewart’s 44.06 percent.
DesJarlais recently said he believes God has forgiven him for his mistakes and has asked voters to consider the same. He also has stressed that his life has changed for the better after marrying his current wife, Amy.
But a number of top Republican leaders have steered clear of DesJarlais and he is said to be vulnerable to a GOP primary challenge.
The district includes all of 14 counties, including Marion, Grundy, Rhea and Sequatchie and part of two others, including Bradley. Tracy, who is chairman of the state Senate’s Safety and Transportation Committee, represents all or parts of five counties, including a chunk of Rutherford, the largest county in the district.
Last month, state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lacassas, announced he had formed an exploratory committee to test the waters for a bid against DesJarlais.
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, ...