Freshman GOP lawmaker resigns from Tennessee House amid reports of sexual misconduct

Rep. Mark Lovell

NASHVILLE - A freshman Republican lawmaker has resigned from the Tennessee General Assembly just weeks into his first session amid what he called false allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with a woman at a legislative event.

Rep. Mark Lovell, a fair and carnival operator from suburban Shelby County submitted his resignation letter Tuesday, saying that the elected position ended up being more demanding than he expected and that he needs more time to devote to his business interests and family.

photo Rep. Mark Lovell

"Regarding any sexual harassment allegations, I stand by my statement that no improprieties happened and the allegations are completely false," he said in the statement.

The allegations against Lovell were first reported by The Tennessean newspaper. Lovell did not immediately return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment but issued a statement through a public relations firm denying any wrongdoing.

Lovell told WHBQ-TV in Memphis that a woman had accused him of inappropriate touching at a legislative event last week.

"The accusations are taking away from my family and my business," he added. "It doesn't matter if you're guilty or not in politics."

Lovell defeated longtime incumbent Curry Todd in the Republican primary in August. Todd had been arrested in the days before the vote on charges of stealing Lovell's yard signs. Todd, who was bailed out on the eve of the election by Lovell, is still awaiting trial.

The Shelby County Commission will name a temporary replacement for Lovell until a permanent successor is voted into office within 107 days of Gov. Bill Haslam issuing a writ of election.

Republican Rep. Leigh Wilburn of Somerville was the last lawmaker to resign in 2015 because of what she called unspecified "unforeseen circumstances."

Then-Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey alleged at the time that the married lawmaker had stepped down because she had had an affair with former Rep. Jeremy Durham. Wilburn did not respond to Ramsey's comments, while Durham denied "any physical relationship" with Wilburn.

Durham lost his re-election campaign in August and was later formally ousted from the House after a sweeping investigation by Attorney General Herbert Slatery's office that detailed a series of sexual harassment of at least 22 women during his time in office.

One legislative clerk interviewed by Slatery's office said she rebuffed Durham's request for drinks with her on the basis that he was married and she was engaged. She recalled that Durham's response was: "Welcome to Capitol Hill."

In response to the attorney general's report last summer, the House and Senate speakers approved a new workplace harassment policy that took effect immediately. It included a requirement that anyone in a supervisory role, including legislators, must report harassment if approached with a complaint.

Kara Owen, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Beth Harwell, said legislative investigations only last so long as members or employees remain in service.

"If a member or staff were no longer an employee, the Tennessee General Assembly would no longer have jurisdiction," she said.