Beth Bets Her Speakership on the Expulsion of Durham
It has come to this. After failing repeatedly to handle the problem that is Jeremy Durham, Harwell has astonishingly raised the stakes even higher. In so doing she has placed her political career and her current position on the table, while enraging a rapidly growing number of her GOP colleagues who are furious that she has put them in a bad position of her making.
It began when Harwell learned of complaints from women who claimed Durham had sexually harassed them. At first she tried to imply she had only recently learned of the rumors. Everyone at LP knew that was a laughable lie. She knew at least the day before she sent Connie Ridley to “talk to” Durham, and probably a considerable time before that. Rumors of Durham’s alleged peccadillos were common knowledge around Legislative Plaza. Even the interns knew. If Beth didn’t know about Durham, that would make her the last to know. That is impossible to believe.
Once the Tennessean had the story, Beth went into full panic mode. She started with a carefully parsed sentence worthy of Bill Clinton: “I did not have any first-hand knowledge of any sexual abuse.”
At first she demanded Durham step down as Majority Whip. When he did that, she then demanded his resignation from the House. When he countered with resigning from the caucus and taking a leave of absence (which incredibly Beth signed off on earlier this week), she raised the stakes even higher and demanded expulsion. She apparently made her call within hours of the Tennessean turning its guns on leadership with an article about how all three of the top leaders of the House had known more information and for a longer time than they had claimed. And it is by moving for expulsion that Beth is desperately trying to save her own skin by hiding behind the 66 votes it will take to expel Durham.
Beth even allowed Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey to “troll” her by revealing the legislator with whom Durham was alleged to have had an affair. He also exposed her weakness as a leader by musing: “It’s only going to get worse,” They (i.e., Harwell) need to work to bring an end to it.” Beth drew the Governor into the fray by having him say Durham should “probably resign” and then she recruited his best friend and legal lap dog, AG Slattery, to try and help clean up her mess. The Governor has so far remained silent on actual expulsion. Maybe he’s saving it for his State of the State speech.
Beth cashed in her Rolex and her savings bonds to raise the stakes even higher when she assigned a legislative outsider like the Attorney General to investigate the entire Durham situation (although no one can tell how long it will take the AG to release his findings and whether or not the entire House will even be allowed to see those findings). In so doing, Beth bet the farm – and her gavel.
No Expulsion, No Speaker Harwell?
So now all the bets have been placed, raised and called, and Harwell is left with having to actually get Durham expelled. Can she do it? She had better, or the already pissed-off GOP caucus members may begin to openly call for her to resign as speaker following the session or at least announce she will not run for another term as speaker. They are that angry.
RTP friends and spies in the LP are all telling the same story: because Harwell didn’t act to take care of this problem early on, because she and Gerald McCormick chose instead to sit on the information for months with the hopes of using it for a political hit on their political enemy when the opportunity arose, and when she raised the stakes to DefCon Five by bringing in the AG and demanding expulsion, she dragged all 72 of her GOP colleagues into her mess and is going to make them cast a vote up or down on Durham to save her derriere.
She has further complicated things by calling for the expulsion before she even determined the procedures for doing so. Legislators in both parties are wondering if Durham will be allowed the right to examine the evidence against him (so far, the public information consists of 2nd and 3rd hand accusations and the rumor du jour). Will he have the right to cross-examine his accusers? Will he be allowed the benefit of counsel? In other words, will he be permitted to defend himself, and how? The General Assembly is not a Star Chamber where constitutional rights are suspended in order to save the leadership. Harwell should have thought of that before she freaked out.
The due process procedure is a key point for legislators in both parties. For if this is a demonstration of Harwell’s leadership and her reaction to difficulty, then any one of them could be the next target – deservedly or not – of Harwell’s incompetence. Getting Durham to resign back when it would have made a difference had broad support in the GOP caucus and Beth spectacularly failed to make that happen. It is abundantly clear that far fewer legislators have the stomach for expulsion, particularly if it looks like a kangaroo court.
RTP will pause here for one of our patented predictions. Our sources are telling us it is highly likely that if and when Beth moves an expulsion resolution on the floor, that one or more of her Republican colleagues will introduce an expulsion resolution on Democrat Rep. Joe Armstrong. Let’s see how many Democrats vote for Durham’s expulsion if they think Armstrong is next in line. And remember – you heard it here first.
So let’s recap the Speaker’s dilemma: If Durham is expelled and especially if it looks like he was railroaded, it’s bad for Beth. If she doesn’t get the votes needed for expulsion, it’s worse for Beth. If the AG draws out his “investigation” – it’s bad for Beth. It will appear (accurately) that she convicted Durham and set the date of his execution before she had all the evidence and before there was a trial. If she backtracks from expulsion it isn’t just bad for Beth – it’s a disaster. Legislators from both sides of the aisle will be asking why the hell she put them through this.
Even if the Tennessean runs a story with photos of Durham shagging farm animals (always a possibility), the damage to Beth is done – unless she can get him expelled and out of her hair (which would be difficult if he runs for reelection). At this point, failing a horrific additional revelation or Durham’s resignation may not be enough to keep her from getting fired as speaker – that’s how bad she has screwed this up.
NEXT: Why Gerald McCormick is likely to lose his job because of Le Affaire Durham.
Excerpt: “Gerald has more exposure, but fewer resources to mitigate the damage than does Beth (even though Beth squandered her powers to shoot herself in both feet).”
Senator gives TEA’s Jim Wrye a major comeuppance.
The greasy tables in the LP cafeteria were buzzing today with word that TEA lobbyist, Jim Wrye, crossed way over a forbidden line and was slapped down by a respected member of the Black Caucus.
After the devastating vote on banning paycheck dues deductions for labor unions on the Senate floor earlier this week, Wrye apparently stormed into the office of the always impeccably attired Sen. Thelma Harper and proceeded to read her the riot act on her vote. Harper, along with Sen. Reginald Tate voted with the Republicans to stop the practice where teachers have dues for the TEA taken out of their paychecks automatically. Those dues are then spent on politicians, lobbyists and big salaries for TEA staff. For the first several decades of its existence, almost 100% of the money contributed to politicians went to Democrats. In the last couple of years, in an attempt to buy his and TEA’s relevancy with the GOP controlled legislature, Wrye began giving more money to Republicans. As the Tennessee Watchdog discovered, a lot of the new “GOP” money was diverted from the campaign coffers of the TEA’s long-time and most loyal ally, the Democratic Black Caucus.
According to the prevalent rumor, Wrye not-so-gently told Sen. Harper that the TEA had played a huge role in her political success and that Harper “owed us (the TEA)” big-time.
Not understandably, Sen Harper took offense and politely told Wrye to: “Get your skinny [CENSORED] ass out of my office.”
To that, RTP can only say: “You go, girl!”
Yep, those moving vans are headed to your house as we speak, Jimbo. We hear the Alaska Education Association is advertising for a new Director of Eskimo Outreach. Maybe you should check it out.
Rocky Top (including the entire RTP crew and our usual gaggle of informants, snitches, spies and hangers-on) has been absolutely inundated these last two days with phone calls, tips, rumors and unsolicited opinions.
We ask our readers (both of them) to be patient while we sift through the rubble and try to make sense of all the messages wrapped around the bricks being thrown through our windows. Rest assured we soon will have expert commentary and analysis sure to rattle the cages at LP and beyond.
In the meantime, we encourage all you malcontents to go to our patented, award-winning Rocky Top Tip Line (www.RTPtipline@gmail.com) to deliver your flaming bags of political poop. As usual, we encourage you to use an anonymous email address if you do not want RTP to know your identity.
Paybacks Are Hell.
2 of 3 Black Senators Vote Against TEA.
With the butt-whippin’ he received on the Senate floor yesterday, TEA lobbyist Jim Wrye is likely polishing his resume for his next job. Between the elimination of union dues deductions and the passage of a voucher program, the (dwindling) TEA membership must be questioning why or if they can afford to keep Wrye on the payroll.
Just about a year ago Rocky Top predicted exactly what would happen after Wrye decided to go the Full Monty and start desperately funneling money to Republicans and hosing the Black Caucus in the process. Here’s an excerpt of that post:
“Poor Jim. He’s not a Republican – never will be — and he just screwed his oldest friends. In his rush to purchase credibility with the Republican-controlled legislature, he threw his friends overboard. The end result will be that neither side will be able to trust him going forward.
Unions like TEA automatically withhold dues from their members which end up as political contributions dispersed by people like Wrye. After this debacle, it will be interesting to see when (not if) legislation is introduced to end the practice. And when it happens, will members of the Black Caucus vote with the Republicans to end the dues shakedown? Don’t laugh. The current system is being used against them. Could you blame them?”
[Editor’s note: After reading our post from back last March, you are probably asking yourselves: “Is RTP really that smart?” You’re damn right we are.]
Neither vouchers nor the ban on due deductions have passed both houses of the legislature – yet. If they do, there’ll be more moving vans sent to Wrye’s house than an SEC football head coach with a 1-10 record.
GOP Caucus to meet later today.
Meeting to set the ground rules for electing new Majority Whip.
Littleton, Hawk and T. Hill are names mentioned so far.
House leadership, smarting from their incompetent handling of the entire le affaire Durham, are moving at warp speed to fill the slot. Names being tossed about include: Rep. Mary Littleton, Rep. David Hawk and Rep. Timothy Hill.
All of those mentioned so far reportedly have bones to pick with the House leadership, so look for the establishment folks (Haslam toadies) to throw in a name of their own.
An actual vote on a replacement is not expected at today’s meeting.
When the Republican caucus didn’t take up the Jeremy Durham case back on January 12, the mainstream media (and we gratuitously include the Nashville Scene in that category) ran screaming out of the Capitol like their hair was on fire. Such was their manufactured sense of outrage at having been shut out of a meeting, one would have thought Western Civilization was coming to an end for reasons other than radical Islam and Donald Trump.
The MSM, as usual, missed the whole point of the parable. That is, until they read the RTP post on January 13th (“Winner & Losers”).
Here is what Rocky Top said two weeks ago:
“Beth Harwell – by engaging in her hands-off, ignore-the-problem until it metastasizes into an even bigger problem that must be addressed, Harwell put her entire caucus through a painful – and needless – exercise. She absolutely has known for months about most of the rumors swirling around Rep. Durham and yet she did not have the courage or leadership ability to simply call him into her office and tell him to cut the crap. Instead, she hid behind staffer Connie Ridley, who had a brief and cryptic meeting with Durham, allowing Beth to later to try and claim she had done something. The result of her lack of leadership was the cascade of events that led to yesterday’s caucus meeting.
“…the lack of actual leadership among the leadership is a damning indictment of their ability to manage events in the House.”
And here are quotes from the Nashville Scene this morning:
“For months, Durham’s volatile, unpredictable behavior has been common knowledge at Legislative Plaza … House leaders have bobbed and weaved and pretended ignorance. They could have forced Durham out of their leadership at any time, doing what’s right and saving themselves a ton of publicity…”
“Beth Hawell and Connie Ridley… continue to f**k this up. And Harwell’s excuses for why they continue to f**k this up are so stupid that they bore on the insulting.”
“Jeremy Durham is his own problem. The culture that allows him to flourish is Beth Harwell’s.”
Superfluous profanity notwithstanding, we admire your quick grasp on the obvious there, dudes. With the help of RTP, you guys figured it out faster than Dave Boucher can leave a news tip on Alanna Aulter’s pillow.
RTP has checked with our lawyers and they inform us that shameless paraphrasing of RTP’s postings and analyses isn’t actually plagiarism. They also tell us that claiming you are a journalist doesn’t actually make you one. So it looks like you guys skate by on both counts.
Still, if you are going to rely on the crew at RTP to put your foaming-at-the-mouth news coverage into perspective, then at least let us share in the profits generated by your news divisions.
Oh wait, that’s right. Your “news” departments don’t generate any actual – you know – profits.
As the late, great news commentator Emily Litella once said:
“Not enough diversity in the color of the recent precipitation,” says Vice Chancellor of Diversity & Inclusion, Rickey Hall.
In a rare shutdown of the Knoxville campus, Hall decried the recent snowfall and reported Mother Nature to the Obama Administration for a Title 9 violation. Hall said the declaration was in response to an obvious act of racism committed by the school’s radio station, WUOT, last month when they aired the song “White Christmas.”
“In just one song title, the station committed a ‘micro-aggression’ against me and others,” said Hall. “If there are two things we cannot tolerate in a progressive university, it is ‘white’ and ‘Christmas.’
“The recent storm has made the campus entirely too monochromatic.”
The school’s office of LGBTTQ studies added that it was sure the snow was also sexist, but had not yet figured out exactly how. “Give us time,” said a LGBTTQ spokescreature. “We’ll come up with something.”
No word yet from the legislature as to when Hall will be fired.
If Vouchers Pass, These Two Deserve All The Credit:
Jim Wrye is the garrulous yellow dog Democrat who heads up the lobbying effort for the Tennessee Education Association (TEA). The disheveled gentleman next to him is Chris Brooks, the socialist “community organizer” who specializes in harassing legislators, defiling the Pledge of Allegiance and coordinating Black Lives Matter-style political attacks on police officers in Chattanooga.
Wrye hired Brooks, who is paid out of funds from the radical left-wing National Education Association (NEA). Brook’s sole purpose seems to be seeing how many people in the legislature and local government he can offend while spewing his vitriolic Marxist canards. He is generally considered more of an irritant (in the “village idiot” sense of the word) than an actual threat to those he opposes Still, his antics have done a great deal to poison the well with the Republicans in the state legislature.
RTP has written about Jim Wrye many times in these pages. We have done so out of our team’s desire to educate legislators about the political dark side of Wrye’s back-slapping, campaign contribution check-writing attempts to regain influence in a body dominated by the very Republican Wrye spent his entire career trying to defeat.
Wrye and the TEA are desperate to defeat voucher legislation in this year’s assembly. Wrye’s angst is particularly acute. You see, the TEA has lost a bigger percentage of their membership than 45 other states’ teachers unions. Continuation in his current job likely depends on his showing something – anything – to show his bosses that he is worth his salary.
But Wrye’s desperation has turned downright stupid/ugly in recent days. RTP’s loyal tipsters (www.RTPtipline@gmail.com) inform us that Wrye is openly threatening members of finance committees with campaign mailers tying members to “Muslim schools” if they vote for vouchers. He means it. This is the exact same tactic he employed in an attempt to save former Rep. “Coach” Roach from defeat last election and an attempt to defeat Rep. John Ragan. In both cases, Wrye’s tactics failed, but “if at first you don’t succeed, suck until you do succeed.” Right, Jim?
Maybe that’s why yet another tipster tells us the TEA has been trying to recruit Rep. David Byrd to primary Education Chairman Sen. Delores Gresham. Sma-a-a-rt move, there, Jimbo.
We suggest the Finance Committees open every meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. Hey, maybe they could get Chris Brooks to lead the Pledge.
Maybe then, Jim will fire his sorry butt.
*** SPECIAL REPORT***
Haslam and allies gunning for conservative GOP legislators — Again.
Jobs4TN PAC linked to the infamous AdvanceTN PAC.
2014 attacks were far more extensive than previously known.
Major expenditures went largely unnoticed.
Bill Haslam and family provided 56% of the funds.
Recently, GOP fundraiser and Haslam operative, Kim Kaegi sent the following invite out to a few thousand close friends:
We were struck by the size of the “ask.” $10,000 for sponsorships and a minimum of $1,000 per person for a luncheon. For what? There was no mention of where they spent the past contributions or who were going to be the recipients of the PAC’s new funds. Keep in mind, this PAC was created and is run by Bill Haslam.
RTP has done an analysis of Jobs4TN PAC that has led us to believe it is nothing more than an adjunct to and the latest incarnation of the notorious AdvanceTN PAC that Haslam and Cate tried to secretly fund through their allies to attack conservative Republicans in the 2014 GOP primaries. The attempt by a Republican governor to defeat members of his own party was unprecedented in Tennessee history.
After having been caught red-handed trying to defeat incumbent conservative legislators (which was a failure: conservatives actually picked up a net gain of one legislator after it was all over), the governor and his henchman, Mark “Haters Gonna Hate” Cate, now appear to be stockpiling money to once again take out and/or distract conservatives who dare oppose Haslam’s agenda (Common Core, Gas Tax, Insure TN, etc.) or the business interests of Haslam’s cronies.
Cate formed a new company and is being greased with a generous contract working for the new state history museum (and that’s just the contract that is public – no telling what other “non-public” contracts Haslam is funneling to his paid operative).
An examination of the Jobs4TN PAC report through the middle of last year is revealing and raises a number of disturbing questions about the present, current and future activity of Haslam’s vendetta against conservative legislators. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Why the name?
After he was nominated in 2010, but before he was elected, Haslam took the unusual step of forming a PAC called Jobs4TN. It raised a modest sum of money in the 2012 election cycle, but generally just farted around politically, with no significant impact. Curiously, Haslam’s department of economic development (ECD) created a seemingly unrelated program with the same unusual name of Jobs4TN less than two months after he was sworn in. How and why did they use the exact same name? Was it merely a coincidence? Hard to say, but by now we should have learned there is nothing coincidental about these yahoos.
The 2014 Attack on Fellow Republicans — Worse than we knew.
At precisely the same time AdvanceTN PAC was spending hundreds of thousands in attack ads and mailings in an attempt to knock off conservative legislators, Jobs4TN PAC was also playing big during the primary — activity that generated just one news article. During the nearly four years from its inception in 2010 until April 1st of 2014, the PAC raised about $80,000 and handed out about $40,000 in contributions (giving legislative leadership almost all of the money to launder out to the governor’s allies). By the beginning of the 2nd quarter of 2014, the reserves had dwindled down to just over $27,000. During all of 2013 and early 2014, the PAC did not raise a single dime.
But then came the revolt in the House over the governor’s Common Core program on March 13, 2014. House leadership and the governor were gob-smacked by the repudiation of Common Core. Immediately following that humiliating defeat was when Jobs4TN PAC kicked into high gear. Cate and others began trying to recruit candidates to run against incumbent Republicans.
On June 13, 2014 Haslam directed his campaign to write a check for $75,000 to the Jobs4TN PAC. Two weeks later, he had the campaign write the PAC another check for $25,000. Then just 5 days later Haslam sent another $20,000 to Jobs4TN. All told, the Jobs4TN PAC raised and spent nearly 1/3 of a million dollars in the 2014 election cycle, the huge majority of its expenditures coming immediately before the GOP primary, with not a single contribution going to the conservative legislators who had come under attack by Advance TN PAC. Coincidence? Hah.
Jobs4TN PAC contributed over $200,000 in the weeks leading to the 2014 GOP primary, almost exclusively to the personal campaigns funds of his (unopposed) legislative leadership allies and campaign accounts they controlled as well as huge payments to vendors for unspecified political activity directed by Haslam and Cate.
So what did the mysterious Jobs4TN PAC spend its money on? Research has provided some disturbing information.
$130,000 for “Polling and Research?”
The governor was running for reelection in 2014 and had his own campaign fund (run by Jeremy “The Germ” Harrell, who of course now works for Mark Cate. Funny how that works, right?). Any polling or research done by his campaign in his cakewalk to re-election was paid for out of that fund. So why did the governor and his allies feel the need to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Jobs4TN PAC just before the primary and to spend over $130,000 for campaign firms to conduct activities that they only described as “polling & research?” Why indeed.
One of the firms to receive a large payout ($25,144) was the infamous Jackson-Alvarez group in Virginia. This firm is well-known to most of the RTP crew for their nasty “opposition research” capabilities, designed to dig up personal dirt on candidates and their families. They did their dirty work and delivered the results to the Jobs4TN PAC in late June, 2014 – just in time for the attack ads and mailings on the conservative GOP legislators. What did Jobs4TN do with the research? Did they share it with AdvanceTN?
Jobs4TN also spent $74,000 with Public Opinion Strategies (POS), a Virginia polling firm, just before the primaries. $74,000 buys a lot damn polling, especially in a legislative race. Did Jobs4TN piggy-back any questions or poll about the races of the Republican legislators that were soon to come under attack by AdvanceTN PAC?
Here may be the answer: Even though Jobs4TN spent big money on polls just before the primary, AdvanceTN simultaneously spent nearly $300,000 in media attacking Republicans without spending a dime on polling!
Why is that significant? The first thing any political consultant will tell you is that you do not start running TV ads and dropping mail pieces without a poll first. But for some strange reason, AdvanceTN did not feel it necessary to employ that most basic rule of political campaigns. Why was that? Could it be that they already had polling data on individual races from another source?
RTP is willing to bet Bill Haslam’s quarterly Pilot dividend check that the reason AdvanceTN did not spend any money on polling was because they already had polling paid for by someone else.
It gets worse.
Another firm, Jenson Strategic Partners, received $17,500 for unspecified services. Jenson was formed in 2013 by Georgia political operative Paul Bennecke, who –Ta-Da! — was hired by Bill Haslam in late 2014 to be the new executive director of the Republican Governor’s Association after Haslam’s election to head the RGA. This is not the first time that Haslam used an RGA operative to go after conservatives in the Tennessee legislature. The Haslam camp was vehemently opposed to now-Rep. Jason Zachary in a special election to fill Rep. Ryan Haynes’ seat, In an August 2015 special election, yet another former RGA employee by the unfortunate name of Bryce Kornegay, was paid an unusually large sum for a legislative election for — you guessed it — “polling and research” – for the unsuccessful campaign of the Haslam-picked candidate, Karen Carson. Zachary beat the snot out of Carson.
The Link to AdvanceTN PAC
Bennecke has a long-time, close business associate – Nick Ayres — who has a record of attacking conservative candidates in Republican primaries. A good example is the attack on Jack Kingston in the 2014 Georgia U.S. Senate GOP primary through a super PAC. The media for the attacks were designed to help David Perdue, the less conservative of the two candidates, and was run by a firm called Target Enterprises of Los Angeles. Ayres is a partner in Target Enterprises.
By ama-a-a-zing coincidence, Target Enterprises was the very firm hired by Advance TN PAC to attack GOP conservatives in the 2014 primary.
During the general election and after their attacks on conservative legislators, Advance TN did contribute to a handful of first-time conservative candidates (it is noteworthy that none of the GOP legislators who had survived the PAC’s attacks received any contributions whatsoever). But as they teach you in Sunday School, you can’t buy your way to salvation. The damage had already been done.
So to sum up, while AdvanceTN (created and approved by the governor and his allies) was attacking conservative incumbent Republican legislators in the 2014 August primaries, the governor was quietly funding a parallel PAC (Jobs4TN) that was spending huge sums during the same primaries. When contemplating the actual purpose of the Jobs4TN expenditures, it becomes almost impossible to give the governor any benefit of doubt that they were used, directly or indirectly, to do anything except to aid and abet the governor’s AdvanceTN attacks on fellow elected Republicans.
“Deceitful and slimy” hardly begin to describe what the governor and his henchmen tried to do to conservative members of their own party.
UP NEXT: What does all this mean?