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GOP leader who voted to expel Tennessee Three has resigned

Tennessee Rep. Scotty Campbell resigned just hours after he was confronted with questions on sexual harassment allegations against him.
GOP leader who voted to expel Tennessee Three has resigned
Posted at 2:40 PM, Apr 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-20 16:40:54-04

A member of GOP leadership in the Tennessee House of Representatives was recently found guilty of sexually harassing at least one legislative intern, likely two, by an ethics subcommittee acting in secret.

Republican Rep. Scotty Campbell was a member who voted to expel the Tennessee Three. He resigned about six hours after being confronted about the allegations, according to Scripps News Nashville. 

Rep. Campbell, who served as vice chair of the House Republican Caucus and who recently voted to expel three Democrats who engaged in a gun violence protest on the House floor, had previously suffered no consequences as a result of his actions.

Despite accusations of sometimes extremely vulgar comments and other inappropriate advances, Republicans did not remove the 39-year-old East Tennessee lawmaker from his leadership position, nor his committee assignments.

Still, just hours after being asked about the allegations by a Scripps News Nashville reporter, Campbell gave up his seat in the Tennessee General Assembly.

But taxpayers are paying for his actions. Potentially thousands of dollars have been spent to protect one victim, relocating her from the downtown apartment building where she and Campbell both had apartments, shipping her furniture back home to another part of the state, and placing her in a downtown hotel for the remainder of her internship.

Legislative officials refused to say how much they've paid out, saying that information is confidential.

Confronted with the allegations Thursday as he headed to Capitol Hill, Campbell referenced a second intern who was also involved in the investigation. The individual's complaint wasn't previously known to the media, it appeared. 

"I had consensual, adult conversations with two adults off-property," he insisted.

"I think conversations are consensual once that is verbally agreed to. If I choose to talk to any intern in the future, it will be recorded."

But, a four-member ethics subcommittee, composed of two Republicans and two Democrats, came to a different conclusion, according to a memorandum dated March 29 sent to House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

"Based on the completed staff investigation, the Ethics Subcommittee finds that Representative Campbell violated the Policy" against workplace discrimination and harassment, the memo says.

It goes on to say that "discrimination and harassment in any form will not be tolerated," concluding that "no further information concerning this complaint will be released."

Under the Tennessee General Assembly's rules, however, quietly placing that vaguely worded memo in a representative's personnel file is the only action the ethics subcommittee can take upon finding that he has engaged in improper conduct.

Ethics subcommittee members are also barred from publicly discussing their proceedings.

Campbell represents House District 3 in northeast Tennessee, which includes Johnson and parts of Carter, Hawkins and Sullivan counties. He served in the state House from 2010 to 2012, then he was reelected in 2020 and again in 2022.

A self-described promoter, he gained national attention earlier this year when, during the debate over a bill banning drag shows in public places, he asked if that legislation would also prohibit a "bra-and-panties match" by wrestlers at a county fair.

He voted to expel the so-called Tennessee Three arguing, "If you were in court and behaved like those three did, you would have been found in contempt of court."

Legislative interns are generally students from Tennessee colleges and universities. Scripps News Nashville is withholding the name, exact age, and university of the victim in the sexual harassment investigation to protect her identity.

The woman declined to comment for this story.

In an email handed over by a family member, the victim provided a detailed account to officials at her university about her experiences with the Republican leader.

For example, after seeing her and another 19-year-old female intern entering her apartment at the nearby Capitol Towers, the woman describes how Campbell later "made comments about how ... he was in his apartment imagining that we were performing sexual acts on one another and how it drove him crazy knowing that was happening so close to him."

"I uncomfortably explained that that was not happening," she recounted. "And he insisted that he knew it was and asked me to tell him about it," the statement said. 

"I explained that she is my friend, and he proceeded to describe how sexually attractive he finds her," referring to the 19-year-old intern.

That 19-year-old female intern is believed to be the second person who complained.

In response to Scripps News Nashville's questions, Campbell denied that any such conversations ever occurred.

"That's not true," he insisted.

Scripps News Nashville asked, "So she's just making that up?"

"Yes," he said quietly.

The woman's email says Campbell repeatedly commented about wishing "he had someone with whom he could just cuddle" and how "he is very, very lonely."

On March 15, the victim recalls that she went to his apartment to return a wrench that she had borrowed.

"He proceeded to ask how many men I've slept with," said the email to university officials.

"I told him zero, and he insisted that I was lying and told me not to lie. He then proceeded to ask how many women I've slept with and said he bets girls go crazy over me."

Then, the victim says, Campbell offered to give her cannabis gummies to see her tattoos and piercings.

"I told him absolutely not, and he begged me for several hugs," her email says.

"I was getting progressively more afraid and uncomfortable. He then reached out his hand towards me and grabbed me around my neck.

"I recoiled and said I felt sick and immediately left. That was the last night I ever spoke with or saw him. I blocked his number after that."

Campbell also denied those allegations.

"Again, I had consensual conversations that were agreed to, and I'm really surprised that we are here this morning," the lawmaker said.

Asked what he meant by "consensual adult conversations," Campbell declined to say.

"Private conversations are supposed to be private," he insisted.

Still, a few days after that incident, at the urging of a fellow intern, the victim complained to legislative officials who began an investigation.

According to the victim's email to university officials, she was "informed that Rep. Campbell admitted fully to his guilt."

Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration for the General Assembly, provided the memorandum from Campbell's personnel file in response to a public records request.

But, in a series of email exchanges, Ridley insisted that the legislature's policies prohibit her from providing any additional information, including information about the expenditure of state money to assist the victim.

"No information concerning a complaint, investigation, lawsuit or the implementation of corrective action will be released to anyone not directly involved in such a matter," Ridley said.

"The Legislature will comply with the confidentiality provisions of the Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Policy."

Tennessee lawmakers have faced repeated criticisms over the years for what some see as a lax approach to sexual harassment and discrimination.

In April 2019, Rep. Rick Staples, D-Knoxville, was found guilty by the ethics subcommittee of engaging in sexual harassment after an unnamed woman said he "grabbed and held on to her waist while standing behind her after he had made inappropriate comments about her appearance" during a visit to the legislature.

Staples later resigned from his leadership position with the House Democratic Caucus.

In 2016, the House expelled Rep. Jeremy Durham, a Franklin Republican, following an investigation that found he had engaged in misconduct involving 22 women.

This story was originally published by Scripps News Nashville.

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