McCormick effort to call special House session to oust Durham fails to get 66 signatures

FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016 file photo, Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, right, speaks with reporters following a House Republican caucus meeting on the opening day of the second session of the 109th General Assembly in Nashville, Tenn. A special committee of the House of Representatives released a report Wednesday, July 13, in which an investigation of Durham has found he took advantage of his position to sexually harass at least 22 women. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

NASHVILLE - An effort to call Tennessee lawmakers into special session to expel Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, from the House, as well as a separate move to expel both Durham and Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, failed Friday.

Both petitions fell dozens of signatures short of the required 66 or two thirds of 99 representatives needed to initiate the process.

"I think I'll be relieved to be finished with Jeremy Durham issues," said Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who initiated the Durham-only petition. "I think the body has decided not to pursue that."

Only 27 representatives signed McCormick's petition to oust Durham, described in a state Attorney General investigation of having inappropriately approached or sexually harassed at least 22 women, most of them state Capitol female workers, interns and lobbyists.

Sixteen Republicans and 11 Democrats signed McCormick's Durham petition.

Durham, 32, lost his GOP primary election Thursday after suspending his campaign earlier this summer following release of the attorney general's findings.

Another petition circulated by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Frankin, sought to expel both Durham and Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, who was on trial this week in federal court on tax fraud charges. A jury is expected to resume deliberations on Monday.

Only 17 representatives, all of them Republican, signed Casada's petition.

Earlier Friday, the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators announced nearly all of their members opposed both calls for a special session. Durham is white. Armstrong is black.

Black Caucus members said in their news release that while they believe Rep. Durham's activities "were worthy of expulsion, since this is an election year, the voters should be the ones to decide if he should return to the State House."

Only one black House member, Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, signed a petition. It was McCormick's effort to address Durham.

Local lawmakers signing McCormick's petition were Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland; Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge, and Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain. Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, recently said she was not inclined to support it. Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, said he had been so caught up in his Thursday House GOP primary he had not had a chance to review the issue.

Democratic leaders and the state party have repeatedly attacked the House's GOP majority and called for Durham's expulsion because he will become eligible for a taxpayer-funded pension if he serves until his term expires on Nov. 8.

Noting the House had "spent such a disproportionate amount of time dealing" with Durham, McCormick said he is "fine" with the majority of members' decision not to take further action.

"I think I gave them the chance to make that decision and they chose not to do it," he said.

The Nashville Post quoted McCormick saying that "I hope [Durham] gets the help that he needs, because otherwise he'll never live long enough to collect that pension, because someone's husband will kill him."

Asked about the remark, McCormick said he made it "half jokingly" but added, "I think he really should get help and get his life together."

Armstrong's trial stems from his failure to report profits he made while taking advantage of a cigarette tax hike he supported and advocated for.

The Knoxville lawmaker has acknowledged buying stamps at their old price and profiting when the new tax increase took effect in 2011. That was legal. The criminal charge only involves his failure to report the income to the IRS for tax purposes.

Casada told reporters today he is "disappointed" that Democrats are refusing to sign his double-edged ouster petition call.

Both Durham and Armstrong may not have committed felonies "but they both broke the public trust," Casada said.

Durham on Thursday lost his GOP House primary contest to Sam Whitson who won by a 79.52 percent to 13.93 percent margin.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow on twitter @AndySher1.