Robocalls urge resignation of Tennessee Rep. Jeremy Durham

Voters in the home county of a top Republican in the state house are getting robocalls demanding his resignation over a prescription fraud investigation and a letter he wrote urging a lower sentence for a former youth pastor who pleaded guilty to child porn possession.

The speaker in the recorded message calls herself a “concerned conservative parent,” but does not identify who paid for the call.

“As a mother of three I find this to be offensive and dangerous,” according to the call. “This is not the kind of leadership and values we need representing our families in Nashville.

“It’s time for Mr. Durham to step down or for party leadership to call for his resignation.”

Investigative documents released to the public last week revealed that prosecutors had sought charges against House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham of Franklin on allegations that he changed the dates on two prescriptions. A grand jury declined to indict the lawmaker in January.

Three months later, Durham wrote to urge a federal judge to consider child porn defendant Joseph Todd Neill’s entire life, and not just the “ill-conceived act” he pleaded guilty to.

The images had been found on Neill’s phone in an investigation into a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old congregant at North Fork Baptist Church in Shelbyville. Neill was sentenced to more than three years in the federal child porn case, and later pleaded guilty in state court to statutory rape by an authority figure.

Durham said Friday that his letter “in no way condoned his illegal actions and clearly stated that he deserved to be punished for those acts. I simply stated facts regarding his prior life serving others as a Christian missionary.”

The letter has nevertheless been criticized by Durham’s Republican colleagues in the Legislature, including by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, who called it “poor judgment.”

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga said in a statement Sunday that while he was unaware of the robocalls, he was also worried about the letter vouching for Neill’s character.

“I’m very concerned with Representative Durham’s decision to use his official position to advocate for a convicted sex offender,” McCormick said. “Any decision regarding his continued service in the Legislature is between him, his family, and his constituents.”

McCormick noted that any change in Durham’s leadership status in the Legislature would need to be determined by his GOP colleagues in the House.

Durham declined to comment to The Associated Press on Sunday. But he told the Tennessean newspaper that he doesn’t expect any action against him for what he called “outdated non-stories.”

“I find it unlikely that Republican leadership would take action against someone who was fully exonerated for something they didn’t do more than two years ago,” he said.