Nashville Feminists Call for TN State Rep. Jeremy Durham to Resign
In January three female interns revealed to the Tennessean that then-House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham (Franklin) sent them inappropriate and harassing text messages, even asking for photos in some instances. Fearing retribution, his accusers came forward on condition of anonymity, and the Tennessean verified that the text messages in question were in fact sent by Durham’s phone.
However, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick already knew.
A woman approached House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick about inappropriate text messages and phone calls she said she had received from then-House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham during the summer, McCormick confirmed Thursday.
The meeting, acknowledged publicly by McCormick for the first time this week, happened months before The Tennessean published an investigation focused on three women who said Durham sent them inappropriate text messages.
She was the second of two women to discuss with McCormick behavior by Durham that they considered inappropriate. Although McCormick said he advised the women to take that information to a human resources official, he said he never asked to see the text messages.
Breaking the story in the press prompted House Speaker Beth Harwell to form a special legislative committee, and Attorney General Herbert Slatery continues to investigate. Unfortunately, the investigation still remains unclear. Durham stated that he’s done nothing wrong, doesn’t remember sending the texts, has no intention of resigning, and is seeking reelection.
In an even stranger turn of events, the State Senate recently passed a bill that forces people who sue state employees to pay their legal fees if the plaintiff doesn’t win. Attorney General Slatery issued a statement to the Tennessean following its passage.
The bill ‘levels the playing field’ and says there are consequences when you sue a State employee in his or her individual capacity for leverage, knowing you will be able to recover damages from the State. This seems only fair.
The important distinction here is State employees acting in an official capacity, as opposed to the State itself. However, it’s your right as a citizen to seek redress without fear of retaliation – such as being taxed for losing your lawsuit. Apparently the political class thinks it more important to stoop to intimidation in favor of protectionism.
Although there is no evidence to suggest any correlation between the bill (which is supposed to be aimed at combatting frivolous lawsuits, according to legislators and the AG) and the investigation into Rep. Durham, the timing is extremely poor, if not suspect. Only three State Senators appealed to Governor Bill Haslam to veto the bill.
Dangerous legislative overreaches at all levels of government should be a cause for concern for all citizens. It transcends partisan politics, ideology, and philosophy when basic rights like seeking redress without fear of reprisals are impinged. Citizens aren’t supposed to fear their government; the government should fear its citizens. Who works for whom?
Moreover, the lack of any conclusive investigation into Dunham only contributes to a climate of intimidation by implying that the onus of stopping harassment is solely on the women who were already harassed. In lieu of these events, as well as it being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a team of community activists including the Nashville Riot Grrrls, Nashville Feminist Collective, and Fisk University students decided to stage a protest at the legislature calling for Rep. Durham’s resignation from office.
The group of 12 silently marched the halls, dropping off “Jeremy Durham Resign” signs at his office, stopping at the members of the committee members tasked with investigating Durham’s behavior and finally standing hand-in-hand outside the door of House Speaker Beth Harwell.
“We are not sure why he hasn’t been held accountable,” said Ashley Dixon, 32, one of the protesters.
The women said they were from throughout Davidson County and felt it was an issue important to them after a Tennessean investigation reported on allegations of inappropriate text messages sent by Durham.
Nashville’s local ABC News affiliate WKRN-TV was also on the scene and spoke with the group’s media spokesperson Whitney Washington, who affirmed their position that the entire chain of events “is making this an unsafe work environment for women.” They want Durham to be held accountable for his actions.
Speaking with Whitney Washington myself, she reiterated the need for direct action. “We’re not circulating petitions but encouraging people to call, email, and tweet.” NRG member Lauren Strange posted all of the aforementioned details for members of Durham’s investigative committee in the event’s Facebook page and fired off some tweets of her own.
Rep. Durham was actually on the floor introducing a bill during the protest, but spoke to the Franklin Homepage in its aftermath.
Although I fully support freedom of speech, I’m disappointed that these young liberals would turn a serious matter into political grandstanding and minimize the weight of this important issue for those who have truly been harassed in the workplace,” Durham said. “I realize we live in a politically correct society, but making a false accusation when there was never even a complaint filed is extremely unfair.
Rep. Durham might need a reminder that he’s currently under investigation for verified texts sent to three “young” female interns from his own phone, even if that investigation doesn’t inspire confidence. And as an eyewitness to the protest, there was no “liberal” political grandstanding or partisanship of any kind. The protest was rooted in issues-based activism, unless harassment and intimidation are now partisan issues.
Even if we assume Durham will suddenly buckle under the pressure and resign, it’s highly unlikely that Williamson County appoints a liberal in his stead. So who’s really engaging in political grandstanding? Smart money is always on the embattled politician running for reelection.
The age-old right of crusty white male politicians to harass their female subordinates is under attack. I know. It’s “extremely unfair.”
UPDATE: This afternoon, just over 24 hours after the protest ended, the Tennessean is reporting that the Attorney General’s probe into Durham’s behavior found “inappropriate physical contact.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell banished Rep. Jeremy Durham to a new office building and limited his access to staff after a scathing Tennessee attorney general report found the Franklin Republican engaged in inappropriate physical contact and potentially poses a “continuing risk to unsuspecting women.”
“Based upon the information gathered thus far, Representative Durham’s alleged behavior may pose a continuing risk to unsuspecting women who are employed by or interact with the legislature,” Attorney General Herbert Slatery said in a letter to House officials.
In accordance with the attorney general’s findings, Harwell, R-Nashville, is limiting Durham’s access to certain legislative buildings — including moving his office across the street — and he has been barred from having contact with almost all staff or interns as the investigation continues.