Investigation: Tennessee lawmaker sexually harassed women on job
NASHVILLE, TENN. >> An investigation of a Tennessee state legislator released Wednesday found he took advantage of his position to sexually harass at least 22 women, including a then-20-year-old college student who told investigators Rep. Jeremy Durham plied her with a cooler full of beer and had sex with her in his office in 2014. Another woman interviewed was a lobbyist who nicknamed Durham "Pants Candy" after she said he rummaged in his pocket before suggestively offering her a dirty, unwrapped mint.
The 48-page final report outlines a pattern of behavior in which Durham, 32, a married Republican lawmaker from the wealthy Nashville suburb of Franklin, tried to initiate romantic and sexual contact with female staff, interns, lobbyists and political workers. Several of the women discussed feeling as though they could not say no to Durham because he held a position of power over them. None of the women ever filed a formal complaint against him, and many told investigators they felt that doing so would hurt their careers.
Rep. Steve McDaniel is chairman of a special committee of the House of Representatives appointed to look into the allegations about Durham. He said Wednesday that the group opted against recommending a special session of the legislature to oust Durham. Such an ouster, he said, would only last until the November elections and not be binding on the upcoming session of the legislature. Instead, McDaniel said, committee members will let the voters decide.
Durham has resisted calls from state GOP leaders to resign his seat and is running for re-election. Early voting for state primaries begins Friday. Durham's attorney, Bill Harbison, issued a statement on Wednesday calling the investigation, "politically motivated, unfair and unconstitutional." Harbison also criticized the fact that all of the women in the report are anonymous.
Some of the women told investigators their experience with Durham left them feeling bitter about politics.
One intern who said Durham hit on her and tried to kiss her at a political event told investigators that someone later spread rumors that she had slept with the lawmaker.
The experience "completely turned me away from wanting to be a part of the political process, one that I have been passionate about my whole life," she told investigators.
The college student who had the affair with Durham later cried when speaking to investigators. She told them she was naive and had considered working for the legislature at one time but no longer had any interest.
Several women said Durham persisted with them even after they tried to politely brush him off without offending him. A lobbyist told investigators he once closed the door to his office, made sexual comments and gave her a "full frontal hug, squeezing her breasts into him and making a sound like 'mmmmmm.'"
Later, she told them, he continued to text, asking to see her and requesting hugs and kisses, but she always told him she was unavailable. "She felt anyone else would have thought she was rude if brushed off as many times as she brushed off Rep. Durham's advances, but he was like a 'dog on a bone,'" the report states.
After preliminary findings from the investigation were released in April, House Speaker Beth Harwell exiled Durham to a different building and limited his access to the Capitol. Harwell said on Wednesday that if Durham were to be re-elected she would continue those measures in order to protect female employees from him.
If voters were to re-elect Durham, it wouldn't be the first time he had managed to escape trouble. In 2003, while he was in college, he was arrested for breaking into the home of his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend and stealing from him. Prosecutors and school officials didn't pursue the case. In 2013, prosecutors accused Durham of prescription drug fraud, but a grand jury declined to indict him.
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