Do We Care About Conduct?Tom Humphrey wonders if Tennesseans have become desensitized to the "sex scandals" of our political leaders because "it happens all the time."
Once upon a time, say a couple of decades ago, there was a lot of gossip in Tennessee political circles about inappropriate sexual activity but it rarely, if ever, made its way into media reports.
Today, on the other hand, we find two gubernatorial candidates dealing - on a rather indirect or tangential basis, of course - with publicized adultery allegations.
For Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the tangent has been Sen. Paul Stanley, R-Germantown, who last week resigned his Senate seat after acknowledging to the TBI that he had a sexual relationship with a 22-year-old intern.
Ramsey had appointed Stanley chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. He was caught by surprise, the Senate speaker says.
After the scandal became public, Ramsey says he prodded Stanley to, first, resign as chairman and, second, to resign from the Senate.
There is no evidence to suggest that Ron Ramsey knew about Paul Stanley's relationship with his intern for any longer than Ramsey himself says that he knew. Similarly, as Humphrey points out, certain media and Democratic shill outlets trying to make connections between Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Zach Wamp and disgraced Congressman John Ensign where none exist based solely on a campaign contribution from Ensign's PAC-and the fact that the two men shared a place in Washington with other Members of Congress who were people of faith-are also trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. Humphrey brings up a much deeper question, however, and that is whether the voters even care about political figures' sexual indiscretions.
The state's Democrats, meanwhile, have generally kept quiet about Stanley's steamer.
Former Rep. Rob Briley, D-Nashville, resigned his committee chair after a drunken-driving arrest that led to disclosure of an apparently inappropriate relationship. But he served out his regular term.
For me, the issue with Rob Briley was not that he was apparently having loads of fun with a lobbyist for the Tennessee Trial Lawyers' Association (an oddly appropriate match for Briley). Titilating information, to be sure, but that probably didn't impact Briley's ability to do his job in the Legislature on its face-especially since he already saw the Legislature as his personal club of sorts. It probably did have an impact on the lobbyist's ability to do her job, but that was settled between her and her employer. The difficulty in the Briley case is that his relationship with Mary Littleton was also a part of a larger life problem that was impacting his job. Rob Briley wasn't just an alcoholic, but his addiction had become dangerous and placed his life, his work, his constituents, and his health all in jeopardy. Hindsight being 20/20, we now know that part of the reason for Briley so often appearing mean, hateful, uppity, snobbish, and downright rude was that this was the liquor talking, we may never know what an alcohol-free Briley would have been like. Since Briley left, several legislators have mentioned to me that part of the reason Briley was the way that he was had to do with his excessive drinking.
Briley blamed bloggers for his ouster, but he had problems that may have been inherited. It is said that his Grandfather was a pretty mean drinker in his own right. Regardless of all of the reasons for his leaving, Briley could not effectively represent his constituents, and he needed to go.
While some people really do expect their political leaders to be perfect, the most reasonable expectation is not perfection, but that these officials not engage in behavior that could negatively affect their jobs-and they should have the good sense to know what that kind of conduct might be.