NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A state lawmaker in Tennessee resigned suddenly for an ethics violation that became public Thursday, two weeks after he joined fellow Republicans in expelling two Black Democratic legislators for protesting in support of gun control on the state House floor.
Rep. Scotty Campbell, vice chair of the House Republican Caucus, violated the Legislature’s workplace discrimination and harassment policy. The brief Ethics Subcommittee findings document from late March did not provide specifics and said no more information would be released.
Campbell’s resignation came hours after a Nashville TV station confronted him about sexual harassment allegations involving legislative interns.
Campbell declined to provide a detailed account of what happened. Asked by WTVF-TV on Thursday about the ethics panel’s decision, Campbell said, “I had consensual, adult conversations with two adults off property.”
“If I choose to talk to any intern in the future, it will be recorded,” Campbell said.
About six hours after the broadcaster questioned him, the Mountain City lawmaker issued his resignation effective immediately, according to a letter to fellow legislators.
WTVF-TV was first to report on the finding by the Ethics Subcommittee, which issued its decision in a document dated March 29 addressed to Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton.
“I can’t determine exactly when we saw it (the letter),” Sexton told reporters Thursday. “But, the determination was the subcommittee. The speaker has no role in putting out any kind of corrective action. That comes from the subcommittee.”
Campbell stayed in office following the ethics finding, and on April 6 voted to expel Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson. They have since been reinstated. Campbell also voted to expel Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson, who was spared expulsion by one vote.
Jones, Pearson and Johnson were targeted for expulsion for the March 30 protest at the front of the House floor in which hundreds of demonstrators packed the Capitol to call for passage of gun-control measures.
Johnson called Campbell’s ethics violation “horrendous” in a tweet Thursday afternoon.
“Yet if you talk without permission, you get expulsion resolutions,” she added.
Expulsions are extremely rare in Tennessee, and considered an extraordinary action. Republicans have faced scrutiny about how they have chosen to wield, or not wield, the power.
Campbell’s departure comes in the waning hours of a monthslong legislative session. GOP legislative leaders are trying to finish their work by the end of the week.
In 2019, lawmakers were under pressure to expel former Republican Rep. David Byrd after he faced accusations of sexual misconduct dating to when he was a high school basketball coach three decades ago.
At the time, Sexton said it was up to Byrd to decide whether he should continue in the Legislature.
“You have to balance the will of the voters and overturning the will of the voters,” Sexton told WPLN in 2019, noting the allegations dated from 30 years earlier.
Byrd decided not to run for reelection in 2022.
Former Democratic Rep. Rick Staples of Knoxville, meanwhile, resigned a leadership position in 2019 after the same ethics panel found he had violated the Legislature’s sexual harassment policy.
Often, expulsions have centered on a criminal conviction. Tennessee’s state law and Constitution disqualify convicted felons from holding public office.
State lawmakers last ousted a House member in 2016 when the chamber voted 70-to-2 remove Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham after an attorney general’s investigation detailed allegations of improper sexual contact with at least 22 women during his four years in office.
In 2017, a Republican House lawmaker resigned while facing allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with a woman at a legislative event. Before he stepped down, then-Rep. Mark Lovell denied the allegations. Instead, he said the elected position was more demanding than he expected and he needed time for his business interests and family.
Meanwhile, former Republican Rep. Glen Casada became speaker in 2019 and resigned after months on the job, amid revelations that he and his then-chief of staff had exchanged sexually explicit text messages about women years earlier. But he remained in his seat and won reelection as a lawmaker in 2020, then didn’t seek reelection in 2022. The former chief of staff lost his legislative job in the texting scandal.