For first time in 36 years, Tennessee House ousts one of its lawmakers

Embroiled in sexual harassment scandal, Rep. Jeremy Durham deemed unfit to serve

Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin talks to reporters as he leaves the Capitol before a vote to expel him from the House of Representatives was taken during a special session Tuesday Sept. 13, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. Forty seven Republicans were joined by 23 Democrats Tuesday to vote to oust Durham from the Tennessee state Legislature. Durham faced allegations of sexual harassment detailed in a state attorney general's report. He denied most of them.

NASHVILLE - For the first time in 36 years and just the third time in Tennessee's 220-year history, members of the General Assembly on Tuesday ousted a lawmaker from their midst as unfit to serve.

Representatives in the 99-member state House voted 70-2 to expel Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, from the chamber amid sexual harassment allegations against the 32-year-old former House majority whip and one-time rising GOP star.

photo Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, addresses the House in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, from the well of the camber to urge his colleagues not to expel him from the Tennessee General Assembly. The move to expel Durham follows an attorney general's investigation that detailed allegations of improper sexual contact with at least 22 women over the course of his four years in office. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, presides at rear. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

The expulsion motion came after an investigation earlier this year by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery's office over Durham's contacts and interactions with female staffers, interns and lobbyists at the state Capitol.

"Today, the House made the right decision, because this truly was a victory for the taxpayers of our state, but most importantly for the victims," House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, later told reporters.

Lawmakers used a rarely invoked clause in the Tennessee Constitution: Article II, Section 12. It provides that each House "may determine the rules of its proceedings," punish its members for "disorderly behavior" and with a two-thirds majority expel a member.

Durham, an attorney first elected four years ago, sought to defend himself on the House floor. He tried to cast doubt on the entire procedure - the attorney general's investigation, the allegations, the fact no formal complaint was ever filed against him and the fact all his accusers were anonymous.

It's all rumor, hearsay, Durham charged, telling colleagues that "no matter how guilty you think I am, there are aspects of this situation that should bother you." He told colleagues that "I ask that you vote for due process."

Two representatives, one a Republican and the other a Democrat and both attorneys, tore into Durham with a series of questions.

Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, directly asked Durham if he had had sex with an intern in his office. Lamberth also asked Durham if he'd sent text messages to a female lobbyist about her attire and breasts, saying "I'm sure that helps get you votes" and more.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville asked Durham if he would acknowledge any charge in the attorney general's report.

"I think there was something wrong with almost all of them, as far as factual," Durham said. "But there were some, where the gist, looking back, I think there was definitely some fault that I had, some ownership that I definitely needed to take. But it's not the ones that were the salacious ones in the media."

Durham left before the vote was taken. Republicans, who have 73 members in the chamber, were at odds among themselves. Sixty-six members were needed for the two-thirds majority.

"Procedure is important, because it protects the accused," said Rep. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettesville, during the debate, noting that as an Air Force colonel she had dealt with such issues. "Our laws exist so that we have something in America that is precious: Every citizen, nameless and faceless, that ever stands accused has the protection."

Rogers said she did not consider herself "loyal to Jeremy Durham." Still, she voted against the expulsion motion, as did Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster.

Rep. David Alexander, R-Winchester, was having none of that. During an earlier GOP Caucus meeting, he said Republicans needed to go back to the floor and "flush the commode" when it came to Durham.

Alexander, according to GOP staffers, had been one of the first lawmakers to raise alarms among members after hearing reports and speaking with at least one of the women about Durham's alleged activities.

Speaking later on the floor, Alexander noted that "this ain't Camelot up here, and this is not a court of law." And he recalled how the House in 1980 had expelled a lawmaker.

"I believe that the Constitution and the rules give us the authority and the right to do exactly what we have done in the past, and where we are right now," Alexander said. "It is our duty to vote on this. I for one have been appalled at some of the arrogance that I have seen displayed by this gentleman [Durham]."

Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, sought to get into other aspects of Attorney General Slatery's report, saying it suggested one or more lawmakers, one of them evidently a female, were "culpable" and sought to shield Durham's misbehavior.

Harwell cut him off as out of order and the vote soon commenced.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, later said the "end result is, I think the people of Tennessee expect us to do something when we have a member who misbehaves. We figured out a way to do it and got it done."

As a result, a "super majority" of the House "agreed with what we needed to do, which is to expel a member," McCormick said. "It's not a happy day. It's a sad day. And I hope the young man [Durham] gets his life in order and does some good things."

In addition to the 1980 expulsion of a House Republican after he was convicted of soliciting a bribe, the Tennessee House in 1866 expelled six representatives who refused to participate in a special session to ratify the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Tuesday's vote came during a special session as well, with the main purpose of the call by Gov. Bill Haslam to address a legislative screwup on a DUI law that threatens to cost the state $60 million in federal road funds unless fixed before Oct. 1.

Some of Durham's defenders sought to argue the House could not legally consider expelling Durham because it was not part of the limited call. But House leaders said the motion put forward by Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, was procedural in nature and thus allowable.

Forty-seven of the House's 73 Republicans voted to expel Durham, while 23 of the chamber's Democrats joined them.

Four lawmakers "blue lighted" the resolution, indicating they were present but not voting. Those were Reps. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro; Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson; Andy Holt, R-Dresden; and Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis.

Another 11 didn't vote at all. A number of them were Durham defenders at various points. They were Reps. Shelia Butt, R-Columbia; Tilman Goins, R-Morristown; Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough; Timothy Hill, R-Blountville; Mary Littleton, R-Dickson; John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge; Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station; Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna; Micah Van Huss, R-Gray; and Rick Womick, R-Rockvale.

Many, including Womick, had defended Durham. Rep. Matthew Hill sought to keep reporters out of the GOP Caucus meeting, but members refused to go along.

Also not voting was Rep. Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis.

Ten members were absent, among them Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, who was having surgery.

Others absent included Reps. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville; John DeBerry, D-Memphis; Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma; Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City; Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville; Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg; Brian Terry, R-Murfreesboro; Curry Todd, R-Collierville, and Mark White, R-Memphis.

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