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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Conservative Group Calls for Tennessee Republican\'s Resignation

Tennessee's oldest and largest conservative organization is mounting a campaign to force the resignation of Representative Scott DesJarlais after a taped phone call of Mr. DesJarlais, an anti-abortion Republican, appeared to show him pressuring a mistress to terminate a pregnancy.

Lloyd Daugherty, chairman of the group, the Tennessee Conservative Union, said in an interview Tuesday that Mr. DesJarlais, a doctor and freshman lawmaker, had crossed a line the group could not ignore, confirming an article in Tuesday's Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“In 2010, he ran on two issues: ‘I'm going to end Obamacare,' not ‘I'm going to help end Obamacare' but ‘I'm going to do it personally,' and that he would be a pro-life Republican on every issue,” Mr. Daugherty said. “He got elected on the same issue that he obviously does not have the same personal commitment to. It's the hypocrisy.”

Mr. DesJarlais has been battered in t he Tennessee press over news, carried last week by The Huffington Post that he appeared to pressure a mistress, one of his former patients, to end a pregnancy.

“You told me you'd have an abortion, and now we're getting too far along without one,” Mr. DesJarlais told the woman.

Later in the conversation, the woman complained, “You told me you would have time to go with me and everything.”

“I said, if I could, I would, didn't I? And I will try,” Mr. DesJarlais replied.

Mr. DesJarlais told The Times Free Press that he had raised the abortion issue to force her to acknowledge that she wasn't really pregnant, and that no abortion took place.

But in conservative Tennessee, the matter is not sitting well, especially coming from a man from out of state with few roots in the community before his defeat of Representative Lincoln Davis, a veteran Democrat, two years ago.

Mr. Daugherty called the congressman's explanation “a little too i mplausible.” His organization, which he said has 15,000 members, has been reaching out to other conservative groups to force Mr. DesJarlais to step down.

“We just think he ought to do the honorable thing and resign without us having to ask,” he said.

Mr. DesJarlais's troubles may follow him to Washington. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint against the congressman for having sex with a patient, a violation of Tennessee law, the complaint says.

“Tennessee law is crystal clear: Doctors are prohibited from engaging in sexual relationships with patients. The only question remaining is, now that Tennessee authorities are aware of Rep. DesJarlais' blatantly unethical and scurrilous conduct, what are they going to do about it?” said Melanie Sloan, the group's executive director, in a written statement.

But it is not clear whether Mr. DesJarlais's troubles could be the Democratic Party's gain. In 2010, the Tennessee Conservative Union backed Mr. Davis, an anti-abortion, low-tax Democrat, but Mr. Daugherty said it was highly unlikely the group would throw its weight behind Eric Stewart, a middle school principal and DesJarlais's current Democratic opponent.

Even in Tennessee, fear of emboldening Democrats may curtail any drive to push Mr. DesJarlais from office, Mr. Daugherty said.

“If this was a Republican, we would be reacting the same way. If this was a Democrat, we would be reacting the same way,” he said. “I'm afraid we've lost perspective. Excuse my Tennessee language, but conservative and Republican ain't necessarily the same thing.”