Win or lose, damage to Harwell already done.
Following the recent reports of an out-of-control investigation about accusations of sexual harassment, the beleaguered Rep. Jeremy Durham filed a lawsuit this afternoon against the Speaker, the Attorney General and the Speaker-created Ad Hoc Committee that was assigned to look into the accusation against him.
Rocky Top sources (specifically, not Durham. None of the RTP crew has spoken to him, nor do we plan to) who are close to the situation say that what prompted Durham was, among other factors, a letter from Rep Rick Womick to the Attorney General outlining numerous violations of the Rules of the Tennessee House of Representatives and the state constitution. The gist of Womick’s letter was that the Speaker did not have the authority to create the committee or to punish Durham unless she brought the matter before the full House – something she promised but never did. The lawsuit filed by Durham’s attorney borrows heavily from the Womick letter, plus adds a few twists of its own, such as violation of due process, etc.
Numerous legislators, including many who are not particularly fond of Durham, believe the Attorney General has been conducting an investigation of a member of the legislature without the authority to do so. There has also been a growing concern that the investigation has metastasized into a political “witch hunt” designed to dig up dirt on political opponents of the Speaker and the Haslam Administration, far beyond its original purpose to investigate Durham.
If Durham is successful in negating the authority and activity of the investigation – an admittedly difficult task to achieve at this point — the political fallout would be enormous. But it won’t take a win in court this week for the political effects to take place. Already, there is growing resentment within the GOP caucus that Harwell has handled the entire matter in an unprofessional and generally incompetent manner. Everyone in the caucus now knows or at least suspects that many of the questions put to the 60+ witnesses went far afield from the original purpose of the investigation and that anyone in the legislative body or staff could soon have their personal dossier in the hands of the Speaker, her allies and the Attorney General. It doesn’t take a conspiracy nut to realize the danger posed by someone with such information.
The trust in Harwell among the caucus has taken a severe beating. So regardless of what happens to Durham in court, Harwell has already been tried and found complicit among her colleagues. IF she remains as Speaker, she will have an extraordinarily difficult time managing the body with this kind of baggage. And she has only herself to blame.
If Durham wins even a partial victory in court, people like Glen Casada (and likely several others) will need to update their resumes for a run for the Speakership. If Durham beats the odds and wins the primary, people will be calling for Harwell to leave faster than David Cameron can say “Brexit.”
Because with or without Durham’s lawsuit, if this whole controversy gets any messier, Harwell is going to have to step down.
You heard it here first.