With the #metoo campaign flooding the Internet with stories of sexual harassment and assault, we look back not long ago at an accused serial harasser in the Tennessee House of Representatives who was allowed wide sway for his abusive behavior.
Jeremy Durham had “inappropriate sexual contact” with at least 22 women during his time as a state representative, according to a July 2016 Attorney General’s report.
Woman feared they could lose their jobs, earn reputations as complainers, or damage their relationships with other members of the Republican Caucus if they came forward, according to the report. Female lobbyists feared they would lose votes for the bills they were promoting.
Worse, this behavior went on for years, and like Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood, Durham’s abusive behavior was an open secret in Legislative Plaza.
Why did House Speaker Beth Harwell do nothing for so long?
The question remains: Why was it tolerated for so long? The attorney general’s report released in mid-July made clear that Durham’s behavior had been going on for years, and reporting in The Tennessean made equally clear that Harwell and other members of the Republican leadership had to know about it.
We now know that interns were routinely cautioned to avoid him. Yet Harwell never did anything about Durham’s conduct until after it was exposed in The Tennessean in late January.
Once the attorney general’s report established that Durham was a serial sexual harasser, Harwell again avoided decisive action, saying that she had no power to fire him and that the voters in his district should decide his fate. She would change her tune just a few days later, however, when renewed calls for expulsion accompanied the revelation that Durham would keep his state pension if he completed his second term.
Perhaps worse, even after Durham’s actions were made public it took months for Harwell to finally move to oust the handsy house member.
From The Tennessean in September 2016, after Harwell said there would be a vote to remove Durhan from his seat:
The speaker’s announcement is the strongest sign in months that Durham could get expelled from the legislature in the wake of investigations by The Tennessean and state attorney general related to his inappropriate sexual conduct.
The question remains: Why did the Speaker allow this behavior for so long?