Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. A Rocky Top Analysis.

poker chips

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.

Wow.

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).”

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