A parade of Tennessee lawmakers lined up Wednesday to pummel Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth for accusing them of being in the pockets of druggists and meth-makers.
Probably the most forthright was Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster.
"Mr. Sheriff Ruth, have the cojones to come to War Memorial 105 [her office] and look me eyeball to eyeball and tell me I'm on the take. It's very offensive," she said.
Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, said people can -- and do -- say just about anything they want to about lawmakers with whom they disagree.
"But if he wants to make accusations, don't do it with the cowardice of writing an article to the paper. Be a man about it, and come up here and see us," Rich said.
Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, called Ruth out for insinuating the lawmakers "sold our votes."
"Sheriff Ruth, I challenge you to do one of two things," he said. "Come here to the state Capitol and arrest me for the accusations you have made, or come to this podium and apologize to the members of this committee who you have accused of doing wrong things."
Ruth could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
The legislators spoke during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a bill to limit sales of medicine containing pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in methamphetamine.
Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, said his bill would reduce the amount of pseudoephedrine people legally can buy from 9 grams a month to 7.2. He said that would keep more of the drug out of the hands of meth cooks while ensuring that people can buy the cold medicine they need.
But Shipley and others were incensed at a column Ruth wrote in early March on his taxpayer-supported website.
Ruth supports legislation that would require a doctor's prescription for medicine containing pseudoephedrine, including Sudafed, Claritin-D and other cold remedies now sold over the counter.
"Yet the people of Tennessee are losing the battle to the meth drug cartel," Ruth wrote. "The politicians, lobbyists, pharmaceutical companies and meth dealers that are blocking a new, effective law have made for some strange bedfellows.
"It all shakes out to m-o-n-e-y and profits. It is apparent that the special interest lobbyists in Nashville have more clout than the state's sheriffs, other experienced law officers in Tennessee or the voters," Ruth wrote.
Terry Ashe, executive director of the Tennessee Sheriffs Association, disavowed Ruth's comments at the hearing.
"This is an issue that centers around Bradley County. It does not center around the police chiefs, the sheriffs association, the highway patrol, TBI or anyone else. This is one individual's personal comments," Ashe said.
Shipley called Ruth's words "downright dishonest," and committee Chairman Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, offered an apology "to my fellow legislators and our commissioner of safety, as well as the governor, for the comments made in that article."
"That's my home county," Watson said. "His comments in the local and statewide media do not reflect the beliefs of the officers on the streets or the citizens of Bradley County."
Watson is known to be considering challenging Ruth in the Republican primary for sheriff next year.
Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...