By EMILY R. WEST
Although the Tennessee of House Representatives decided Tuesday to vote to expel Franklin Rep. Jeremy Durham, they didn’t come to the decision lightly.
Before the House even began to vote on the measure, both House caucuses met to discuss the issue. While the House Democrats wouldn’t allow the press, the GOP caucus opened their conversations in the Supreme Court chambers. Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) brought the resolution forward during the first day of the special-called session. She brought up the expulsion motion because of Durham’s misconduct in the legislature. If he stayed in office until November, he would receive his pension benefits. Sam Whitson beat Durham in the August primary for the spot on the Republican ballot.
A handful of Republicans said they took issue with expelling Durham, curious if they were providing due process. They were also concerned that Durham could come back and sue the legislature.
“I have grave concerns,” Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) said. “The charge hasn’t been made. We have a report that has no names. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”
Though only two members of the House voted no to expel Durham. Courtney Rogers (R-Goodletsville) and Terry Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) were the small majority who didn’t want to see the Franklin Republican expelled. At least 22 members didn’t vote at all.
Durham did stand before the legislative body and defend himself. He said he denied much of what was in the Attorney General’s 50-plus-page report released in July. He likened much of it hearsay, but he wouldn’t point to which portions of the document were what he considered untruthful.
He noted that he believed he hadn’t received due process. For that reason, he said his lawyer wasn’t present because this wasn’t planned and he wasn’t given enough notification.
“We even gave due process to Saddam Hussein,” he said. “It’s hard to plan a presentation when I didn’t know how long I could talk. I should be able to confront accusers before any punishment is ever rendered. For many of you, it doesn’t matter what I say. No matter how guilty you think I am, there aspects of this situation that should bother you. Not only is there no conviction, there is no criminal charge. The only due process afforded me was not a fair hearing.”
Durham also said he had evidence in a black binder he let sit on the podium of the House floor. He warned that the House wouldn’t want him to go over the evidence he had, nor would he disrespect the House chamber by doing so.
“I promise, this isn’t the forum you want me to present this evidence,” he said. “I wouldn’t do this to this legislative body. I assure you, you don’t want me to release some of the things that are in that binder.”
Durham only stayed for half of the questioning some members had. He answered an extensive line of questioning from Mike Stewart (D-Nashville), who conveyed that Durham had been give ample opportunity to comply with Attorney General. Durham said he didn’t trust that process and hadn’t taken any evidence to the Attorney General that could clear his name.
“I don’t think that’s the appropriate place to take it,” Durham said. “If I didn’t want to turn it over, I don’t have to turn it over to the Attorney General. Did I blanketly turn over my texts to an elected official I don’t trust? No.”
He promptly left the legislature and didn’t return during the middle of proceedings. Some legislators were puzzled by the action and wanted to have the ability to ask him questions before they voted.
Several members went around the room, expressing their disdain for Durham’s actions. Others pleaded to simply get the vote over with on the floor. Neither Rep. Glen Casada nor Rep. Charles Sargent of the Williamson County delegation uttered any questions on the House floor, though both did vote to expel him.
“I think we followed the lead of what his constituents wanted,” Sargent said. “I think behavior such as that will not be tolerated in the House. Yes, I think it’s a sad day, but I think now people will say this is not going to be behavior of a state representative.”
Durham did not offer a comment when asked for one via text message by the Home Page following his departure.
With Durham out of office, District 65 will only have one vote potentially where they are not represented. During the third day of the special-called session, the General Assembly will come together to work out the state’s driving under the influence alcohol limit for underage drivers, which is in conflict with federal law. The U.S. Federal Highway Administration had threatened to revoke $60 million away from Tennessee if it didn’t comply and change the state law.
“There will be no more legislative activity for us after tomorrow,” said Casada, R-Thompson’s Station. He also didn’t take any issue with expelling Durham, adding he didn’t agree with his colleagues’ arguments that it didn’t follow due process.
“Seventy of us said this was not becoming behavior of a legislator,” he said. “We are going to ask you to leave – end of story.”