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VOL. 124 | NO. 20 | Friday, January 30, 2009

Dem Says Williams Foe Offers Deal for Chairmanship

By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Democratic lawmakers told The Associated Press on Thursday that Republican Rep. Brian Kelsey offered to tamp down attacks against new House Speaker Kent Williams in exchange for a committee chairmanship.

The text message, which Reps. Mike Turner and Gary Odom say they saw, was sent the same day a 2-year-old allegation of sexual harassment against Williams came to light.

One day later, Kelsey filed an ethics complaint seeking to have Williams removed as speaker based on two-year-old allegations the Elizabethton Republican had made another lawmaker feel sexually harassed with a comment and tight embrace. The House Ethics Committee this week declined to hear the complaint.

Turner, the House Democratic Caucus Chairman, said Kelsey sent a text message to the cell phone of a Williams aide while members of both parties were negotiating committee assignments.

According to Turner, the Jan. 20 text message said: "I will talk about reconciliation if you make me a full committee chair."

Kelsey denied to AP that he had sent any text message.

Kelsey didn't get a committee chairmanship, but Williams did appoint him as chairman of a subcommittee.

Odom, the House minority leader, confirmed he and Turner saw the text message and said Kelsey should resign.

"Any member who attempts to obtain a political appointment through extortion has committed a very serious ethics violation and is unworthy of holding office," the Nashville lawmaker said.

Williams confirmed that he had received a text message from Kelsey that he described as "bothersome," but the speaker declined to go into specifics about what it said.

"I turned it over to my staff and told them to do what they felt we needed to do with it, because I'm not sure what the avenues are," Williams said.

Turner said he thought the text message was in poor taste.

"I thought it was out of line what he did," the Old Hickory lawmaker said. "I thought it had some serious connotations."

Williams infuriated Kelsey and other House Republicans earlier this month when he banded together with all 49 of the chamber's Democrats to eke out a one-vote victory in the speaker's election over the Republican nominee, Rep. Jason Mumpower of Bristol.

Mumpower said Thursday he was in and out of the committee selection meeting, but said he doesn't recall seeing the text message.

Kelsey, of Germantown, is a longtime opponent of Williams who traveled to Carter County to campaign against his re-election last year.

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, said she complained to Mumpower in 2007 about Williams' behavior toward her but did not file a formal complaint because he had apologized to her.

The week after Williams' surprise election as speaker, Mumpower released a memo about Lynn's allegations to a blogger who had filed a records request.

Williams denied he had ever been accused of – or reprimanded – for sexual harassment.

But Kelsey said Williams' apology in 2007 was the equivalent of admitting he sexually harassed Lynn. When the bipartisan House Ethics Committee voted unanimously Wednesday not to proceed with the complaint because it doesn't have the authority to hear such a case, Kelsey called the decision "absurd."

"Clearly, this committee came in here with the idea that they were going to cover up this whole issue, and not even investigate these issues," he told reporters after the hearing.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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