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VOL. 41 | NO. 6 | Friday, February 10, 2017

Who convinced Lovell to resign – and why?

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A day after former Rep. Mark Lovell resigned abruptly, House Majority Chairman Ryan Williams says he asked Lovell to step down, but only if accusations of sexual misconduct against him were true.

Williams made his comments Wednesday after Lovell told Memphis reporters he was asked to resign to keep from embarrassing himself and the Republican Party.

“I can unequivocally tell you I didn’t ask him to resign,” Williams says. “I told him what my expectation would be if the accusations that the press had told me about came to fruition, that I would ask him to resign, if they proved true.”

Williams says he spoke Monday with Lovell after being contacted by a member of the press and was told about allegations that Lovell had improper contact with a woman the previous week. The new House Republican Caucus chairman says he spoke with Lovell in his office.

“At that time I informed him that the press had asked me about some specific allegations that they had heard. I communicated with Mr. Lovell at that time that if these allegations proved to be true … I would ask for his immediate resignation,” Williams says.

Lovell left his elected position abruptly Tuesday morning before reports by The Tennessean broke that he allegedly had inappropriate contact with a woman a week ago.

House Speaker Beth Harwell could not confirm an investigation into Lovell was being conducted and also stated no investigation would be made because he was no longer a House member.

Williams said he was unaware of a House rule circumventing an investigation into a member if that person left the body.

Asked how the accusation could be proven to be true if no investigation is conducted, Williams says, “My equal question would, ‘Why would you resign if they weren’t true?’”

But he called that a hypothetical matter and says he opted to speak with Lovell Monday after the House session because he didn’t feel he should hear about the matter for the first time from the media.

Harris challenges GOP

Early Wednesday, state Sen. Lee Harris called for an investigation into the possibility Republican leadership asked Lovell to leave to avoid embarrassment over allegations of sexual misconduct.

“If he was told to resign because of bad publicity associated with an investigation or to make sure no investigation took place, that’s the kind of coordinated effort that really is potentially the most serious offense we have seen in this Legislature since I’ve been here,” says Harris, a Memphis Democrat.

Harris says the matter could be dismissed quickly if someone would go on the record and say no Republican leadership asked Lovell to resign to “thwart” an investigation.

A Harwell spokeswoman said she did not speak with Lovell prior to his resignation, and House Majority Leader Glen Casada said he was unaware of Lovell’s situation until he saw a resignation letter Tuesday morning.

Lovell, an Eads Republican who had been in office for only a month, denies any misconduct and says he was leaving his House seat because of the time it took away from his business and family.

Later Tuesday, though, he told Memphis reporters he had been asked by Republican leaders to resign because he and the Republican Party would be “dragged through the mud” regardless of whether it was true.

Lovell told LocalMemphis.com he disagreed with the Republican leadership but opted to go ahead and leave the House because he had been asked in a “gentlemanly way,” giving him a “great exit” from the post since he already felt the elected job was taking away from his work and family. He also said he didn’t know who made the allegation of misconduct against him.

Harris, however, says Lovell’s comments raise serious questions about whether an outside investigation should be conducted. Though he says he doesn’t have enough information to determine whether a conspiracy took place, Harris says more needs to be done than to dismiss the matter.

“We need to know whether or not there was a victim that made a formal allegation, because if there was a victim that made a formal allegation, then that should be investigated,” he says. “And the pretext or the reason not to investigate because we called somebody to resign would not be a legitimate pretext.”

Harris says the Democratic Caucus plans to convene a group of legal experts to discuss how to handle the matter. Democrats did the same thing in 2016 amid reports former Rep. Jeremy Durham had sexually harassed women working in the Legislature.

A subsequent attorney general’s investigation found Durham acted inappropriately toward 22 women in the General Assembly, and House members voted to expel him over the summer during a special session called to deal with federal transportation funds.

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.