NASHVILLE — A Tennessee House Republican on Thursday called on Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican Senate speaker from Oak Ridge, to resign after a social media scandal that has drawn national attention.
McNally has been criticized for liking, commenting and posting fire and heart emojis on the Instagram account of a young, gay performer from Knoxville -- all the while supporting legislation viewed by many as anti-LBGTQ.
(READ MORE: Tennessee Lt. Gov. McNally accused of hypocrisy after posting heart and fire emojis on gay performer's Instagram)
McNally said his social media activity is intended to be supportive of constituents.
Rep. Todd Warner, R-Chapel Hill, called McNally a "child predator" and asked for an investigation.
"Not only have Tennessee Republicans now become the laughingstock of the nation, the bottom line is this: Randy McNally is a predator," Warner charged in a statement in which he also called on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to launch an investigation.
Warner also accused McNally, 79, of having begun "sexually grooming" 20-year-old Franklyn McClur, charging McClur was 17 years old when the speaker began commenting on McClur's Instagram account. A number of McClur's pictures feature him wearing little or no clothing, and he often wears makeup, jewelry and a headband in his wavy hair.
The speaker declined to talk with reporters Thursday as he left the Senate chamber. He later issued a statement.
"I serve at the pleasure of the members of the Senate and my caucus," McNally stated. "As long as I have their confidence, I am committed to the important work of this state. We have several pieces of crucial legislation, as well as a budget, to pass. I remain committed to that critical work."
Senate Finance Committee Chair Bo Watson, a Hixson Republican, said he is not commenting on the controversy.
(READ MORE: 'Offensive and outrageous,' LGBTQ critics charge as Tennessee Gov. Lee signs second 'bathroom bill' into law)
Senate Republicans, with whom McNally spoke after the controversy first erupted, are standing by the speaker or at least holding back on public criticism.
"He owned up to it," Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Thursday as he left the Senate chamber. "He didn't try to deny it. And he didn't try to put it off on anybody else or anything like that. So truthfulness always counts over everything else."
Gardenhire also noted McNally "never made fun of McClur's or his lifestyle, never called him names, never ridiculed him, respected his position in life. What more can you ask for in a leader?"
McNally had commented favorably on several McClur posts, including one in which he wrote, "Finn, you can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine."
McNally told Nashville-based WTVF last week that he never has met McClur in person. McClur told Memphis-based WMC-TV he asked McNally about jobs in the lieutenant governor's office, for which the young man knew he wasn't qualified. He said McNally was open to the possibility. No job materialized.
The speaker was lampooned over the weekend on "Saturday Night Live."
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, who has known McNally for years, remains supportive of his Senate counterpart.
"We saw the letter," Sexton told reporters following Thursday's House session. "I don't think (Warner) has ever sat down and spoken to the lieutenant governor here. So I find it interesting that you would make a speculation without knowing the person, first of all. That's his opinion. No one else signed onto the letter. So it is what it is."
Warner's statement is said by several Capitol Hill sources to have begun as a letter in which he sought other House Republicans to sign. It came out as a news release from him.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-285-9480.