NASHVILLE - The Tuesday night arrest of state Rep. Curry Todd, sponsor of Tennessee's controversial guns-in-bars law, on DUI and handgun possession charges, quickly found its way into the political sphere Wednesday.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester called Todd's reported actions "embarrassing to himself and the state of Tennessee. House Speaker Beth Harwell would do the entire a state a great service by asking Todd to resign or explain why she condones this unacceptable behavior from Republican leadership."
In a statement, Todd said he is "deeply sorry for the events of last evening. On the advice of legal counsel, I have decided not to make any public comments about the situation at this time."
He said he plans to talk with Harwell when she returns from an out-of-state trip "to determine whether it is in the best interest of the General Assembly for me to step aside as Chairman of the State and Local Government Committee."
On a personal note, Todd said, "I am incredibly grateful for the calls of support from constituents, colleagues, and friends about this incident."
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, told reporters "maybe the Democratic Party chairman ought to read the U.S. Constitution before he executes someone for something they haven't been convicted of yet. That would be my suggestion."
Forrester later replied, "It's discouraging to hear Republican Leader Gerald McCormick quickly dismiss Rep. Todd's poor judgement, saying he hopes Rep. Todd will retain his committee chairmanship."
He said Harwell "either believes Republican leaders deserve special treatment or she believes these actions demand consequences. Rep. Todd's judgement is no longer [in] question, Speaker Harwell's, however, is."
According to a Nashville police affidavit, Todd, who represents the Collierville area in West Tennessee, was pulled over by an officer at 10:55 p.m. Tuesday. He allegedly failed a sobriety field test and refused to take a breathalyzer test. A loaded .38-caliber gun was found in a holster between the driver seat and the center console, police said.
Todd told police he had only had "two drinks." It was unclear whether he had consumed them at a restaurant while carrying his weapon, which is illegal.
The affidavit said Todd was unsteady and "almost falling down at times" and that he was "obviously very impaired and not in any condition to be carrying a loaded handgun."
Todd was the lead sponsor of a 2009 bill to let people with handgun-carry permits bring their loaded weapons into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, provided they don't drink and the establishment posts no signs banning guns
McCormick said he had had a "brief personal conversation" with Todd earlier today.
"All of us face challenges and make mistakes in our lives," McCormick said. "My thoughts and prayers are with Rep. Todd and his family right now. On a personal note, I only hope that he takes the necessary steps to address this issue."
Asked if Todd would keep his chairmanship, McCormick said, "it's too early to really know if he's going to keep his chairmanship. He's done a good job, and I certainly hope so. We're not going to make any rash decisions until we have a detailed conversation with him" and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, who appoints chairmen.
McCormick acknowledged "it's a bad idea to drink and carry a gun, obviously. Now, I don't know the details of what happened with Rep. Todd last night, but I think he would agree with me, and I know he would agree with me, that people who are drinking should not have loaded handguns with them."
The Tennessee Firearms Association was among groups that pushed for the guns bill. On the group's website Wednesday, someone posted the comment: "THANKS CURRY FOR THE BAD PUBLICITY."
Tennessee's DUI law is a Class A misdemeanor, carrying penalties upon conviction of up to one year in jail with a mandate of serving at least 48 hours.
Possession of a weapon while under the influence is a misdemeanor and carries a sentence of up to one year and a $2,500 fine.
According to a database of state handgun permits, Todd, a former Memphis policeman, had a handgun carry permit. If convicted, that could be suspended for up to three years.
Tennessee lawmakers' foibles have become fodder for partisan attack in the past. When Democrats were in control of the House, Republican leaders demanded the resignation of then-House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rob Briley, D-Nashville. That came after the lawmaker was charged with being drunk and fleeing the scene of an accident before leading police on a 100 mph chase before being stopped, according to police and court documents.