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VOL. 131 | NO. 15 | Thursday, January 21, 2016


Sam Stockard

The Persecution of Jeremy Durham

By Sam Stockard

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Inhumane and unfair: That’s the only way to describe the “liberal media’s” treatment of state Rep. Jeremy Durham over the last month.

You’d have thought he killed somebody, or at least carjacked someone in Brentwood. The poor guy’s just been treated badly.

From the looks of things, he never got a break in his entire life.

Well, unless you consider how he wriggled out of odd incidents such as a 2003 burglary arrest in Knoxville while attending UT-Knoxville and drug task force allegations of prescription fraud. Charges were dropped in connection with the break-in, which had to do with a former girlfriend and her new boyfriend.

And Durham persuaded a Williamson County grand jury not to indict him for allegedly altering prescription dates a couple of years ago, according to Associated Press reports.

Nobody really looked into those matters until the “liberal media” found out he also wrote a character reference letter on behalf of a former youth pastor found guilty on federal charges of child porn possession and statutory rape.

He was criticized roundly for that by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, House Speaker Beth Harwell and others who felt it unbecoming for someone in a legislative leadership position.

Yet Durham got another pass as the Legislature opened for business when the House Republican Caucus, in a meeting closed to the media and public, opted to keep him as House Majority Whip, a person responsible for rounding up financial support during an election year.

It was a resounding start to the legislative session and a victory for government openness, if by that you mean secret meetings.

Before media were unceremoniously bounced from the room, Durham sat by his wife – who apparently is standing by her man – his lips either trembling or saying a silent prayer.

Rep. Sheila Butt, who doesn’t understand why people would be interested in such matters, called for a private meeting. A request to keep it open by Rep. Jon Lundberg failed miserably, a good sign for Durham early in the proceedings.

Consequently, reporters fiddled around in the hallway outside the old Supreme Court chambers of the State Capitol, shooting the bull for about an hour, before they received news Durham kept his leadership position.

It came not after a thorough discussion about his alleged behavior but after a lengthy debate about caucus rules that came down to a vote on whether to suspend the group’s rules and hold another election to consider replacing him.

Of course, they needed two-thirds of the caucus to vote to suspend the rules and fell one vote short.

Call it a true win for procedure, which the caucus itself apparently didn’t know. Otherwise, it wouldn’t need nearly an hour and consultation with its attorney.

But even after they narrowly allowed him to keep his leadership job, House Republicans vanished, with not so much as a caucus staffer hanging around to save the Franklin Republican from the vultures circling outside the room (Really, they were only tweeting, which is what reporters do these days whether they’re bored or not).

Media were ready to swoop in, too, especially after being booted from the meeting for no good reason and irritated by the wait. Durham gave them plenty of ammunition for future battles.

Asked why he felt it was important to continue as whip, Durham said, “Part of it was because I didn’t want to let the liberal media win. I mean I just thought they were extremely unfair in The Tennessean, and I didn’t think that was very fair.

“I think if one rolls over and people continue to do things like that, then they’ll go after other people. And I felt like the forces of good were on our side.”

In these impromptu press conferences, reporters always compete for the next question, and one asked loudly, “Did the liberal media write the letter on behalf of the child porn offender? Did the liberal media investigate you for prescription fraud?” Durham didn’t answer either one.

He did show some contrition.

“It’s been a very humbling experience. I’m not sitting here saying I’ve approached every single situation in the best way. I’m definitely not here saying that. But everything’s a learning process, you know. I’ll take the criticism, I’ll go forward and I’ll just represent my district,” he says.

But whether he’s telling the truth about discussions with Connie Ridley of the Legislative Administration office, which handles human resource issues, is doubtful. He calls a meeting with her ‘short and low key,’ and claims he didn’t know what she was talking about.

In other reports, Ridley characterized the meeting with Durham quite differently than he did.

Ridley says she didn’t speak to him about any “specific event” or “instance,” but says she went to see him because of “the fact I was getting pretty significant feedback about his behavior.” In fact, Harwell had asked her to talk to Durham about “appropriate” behavior.

Backing from a friend

Earlier in the session’s first day, several hours before the caucus meeting, state Sen. Brian Kelsey predicted Durham would “survive” and keep his whip post.

“I think that his colleagues will see through a personal attack on him for his strong stand against Obamacare,” says Kelsey, who was the best man in Durham’s wedding.

Asked if he thought it was a media attack or came from within the Republican Party, Kelsey, a Germantown Republican, says, “It was clearly instigated by the liberal media, who is in favor of expanding Obamacare in Tennessee.”

Kelsey points out Durham sponsored the legislation in the House requiring a legislative vote on Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan. The General Assembly had asked Haslam to come up with a proposal to provide more people with a Tennessee plan after the Affordable Care Act passed Congress.

Of course, neither the media nor the Senate Republican Caucus went after Kelsey, who sponsored the measure in the Senate.

Asked if he thought the media came after him because of his stance on Insure Tennessee, Durham didn’t want to go into it.

But when told of Kelsey’s comment, he says, “It’s possible, but my message is very clear: Let’s talk about issues that Tennesseans care about. I don’t think they want to, you know, to just have a kangaroo court. I think they want us to focus on real issues. And my goal is to just start focusing on things people in my district are telling me to bring forward.”

He mentions job creation and terrorism prevention as two topics he wants to focus on in the 2016 session, both hot-button issues in Williamson County?

Maybe he’s been so preoccupied with escaping punishment within the caucus he hasn’t had time to concentrate on legislative matters.

But while only a handful of Tennesseans care who serves as majority whip in the House of Representatives, people are concerned about Insure Tennessee, prescription fraud and child predators.

Of course, the main problem with Durham’s situation is nobody is willing to discuss his alleged transgressions publicly.

And the bookies on Capitol Hill are saying – the boys in the newsroom have a running bet – his questionable behavior has absolutely nothing to do with health insurance, drugs or child porn and statutory rape.

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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