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For The First Time In 36 Years, Members Of The Tennessee House Kick Out One Of Their Own

Jeremy Durham chats with an aide shortly before expulsion proceedings on Tuesday.
Chas Sisk
Jeremy Durham chats with an aide shortly before expulsion proceedings on Tuesday.

Hear the radio version of this story.

It was a dramatic final day as a state representative for Jeremy Durham.

The Franklin Republican was ousted Tuesday from the state House of Representatives on a 70-2 vote, marking the first time in 36 years that House members had kicked out a colleague.

Durham had been a rising star in the Tennessee legislature, part of a new generation of Republican lawmakers who swept into office four years ago.

Another of those legislators was Cottontown Republican William Lamberth. He described himself as a former friend and admitted he'd initially refused to believe the allegations against Durham.

"I know we can talk about procedure. I know we can talk about whether or not someone gets due process. But for god's sake, I want to know, did you do it?"

The allegations included misusing campaign funds, sexually harassing nearly two dozen women and having sex with one of them in his office. Durham wouldn't admit to wrongdoing.

"If all it takes is hearsay, rumors and anonymous attacks to expel any individual member from this body, I'm not sure we would have a quorum," he said.

Durham brought along a black binder that he said would prove his innocence. He held the notebook up as he faced scrutiny and issued what appeared to be a veiled threat.

"I assure you, you do not want me releasing some of the things that are in this binder."

Durham insisted he was being railroaded. And Goodlettsville Republican Courtney Rogers was inclined to agree.

"Procedure is important because it protects the accused. Our laws exist so that we have something in America that is precious: Every citizen, nameless and faceless that ever stands accused has the protection."

Rogers was one of only two lawmakers — both of them Republican women — to vote against expelling Durham.

But others shared their thinking. Sixteen legislators abstained, including Dresden Republican Andy Holt.

He's another one-time friend of Durham.

"Representative Durham has lost nearly everything that he's got. He's lost his position. In many ways he's lost his reputation. He's probably lost his law practice," Holt said. "He's lost the respect of many of us in this house, and I take no joy in saying any of these things."

Holt said lawmakers should just let Durham leave office when a new representative is elected in November.

But Nashville Democrat Bo Mitchell said expulsion wouldn't be going far enough. He noted the investigation into Durham had found evidence some lawmakers had covered for him.

"There's several others who are culpable. They knew of his actions for several years and did nothing. In fact, they did do some things —"

House Speaker Beth Harwell would not let Mitchell go any farther. She gaveled him down, ordering him to focus on Durham's case alone.

Mitchell's would be the last speech before the vote to expel Durham, but it might not be the final word. Democrats called for an investigation into what other legislators knew about Durham and his alleged misbehavior.

Copyright 2016 WPLN News

Chas joined WPLN in 2015 after eight years with The Tennessean, including more than five years as the newspaper's statehouse reporter.Chas has also covered communities, politics and business in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Chas grew up in South Carolina and attended Columbia University in New York, where he studied economics and journalism. Outside of work, he's a dedicated distance runner, having completed a dozen marathons