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GOP begins process to expel Newton
Jul 06, 2005 12:00 am
JULY 1, 2005
Republican lawmakers quietly began the formal process Thursday of removing their House colleague, Rep. Chris Newton, from office following his indictment in the federal Tennessee Waltz corruption investigation.
However, House Republican Caucus members seem to disagree about what will be required to pass a resolution and kick Newton out, with one key member of the GOP leadership saying a House Ethics Committee hearing may be needed.
Rep. Chris Clem, R-Chattanooga, filed House Resolution 167 to "expel" Newton from office.
Clem told The Lebanon Democrat on Thursday he filed the resolution in response to fellow House members demanding the move. The resolution recounts an alleged bribe taken by Newton in the Tennessee Waltz probe, where a dummy company set up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation handed out bribe money to legislators in exchange for votes and carrying legislation.
The resolution to remove Newton appears to take the government's case at face value, stating charges in the federal indictment against Newton as fact.
"This is disrupting the entire legislative process," Clem said. "The governor wants to call a special session to address ethics. We have not cleared up all of our old ethics problems yet."
Clem's resolution comes on the heals of Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Bob Davis asking Newton to step down earlier in the week. It was unclear, however, if other Republican leaders in Tennessee were willing to back Clem's play in the House.
House Minority Leader Tre Hargett would not say Thursday whether he supported the measure or would sign on as a co-sponsor, citing his role as vice chairman of the House Ethics Committee.
"I don't think it would be fair for me to comment," Hargett said. "I have not seen the evidence. It might come before the Ethics Committee."
Hargett said House leadership will have to consult Legislative Legal Service for guidance on how to proceed with addressing the resolution should the General Assembly resume session before Newton's case is resolved. He added the House may even need to confer with State Attorney General Paul Summers on the matter.
"I think we need to be very careful we are not in any way interfering with the court case," Hargett said, referring to Newton's criminal case in U.S. District Court. "We have to be very careful we're not interfering with the court system. I'm not saying anybody is right now. … We are going to have to talk to our legal services and see what the process is."
Hargett also said he was unsure if the House GOP Caucus would take a position on the legislation before it began making its way through the House.
Rank and file House Republicans appeared eager to support the resolution Thursday, with one member noting the resolution could bypass the committee process – ethics included and head straight to the floor.
"I am going to sign on and support it," Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, said. "Like all bills and resolutions, we will be taking it to the floor and debating it. My understanding is the sponsor will take it directly to the floor. … I don't think it will go to the ethics committee."
State Rep. Susan Lynn of Mt. Juliet said she would also sign on as a co-sponsor, adding an investigation by the House would be required to expel Newton.
Lynn admitted there were complexities to the move by GOP House members, saying a revelation by the federal government of Newton committing his alleged offenses on videotape would make the proceedings more cut and dry. The U.S. attorney played such videotape evidence of former Sen. John Ford in open court.
"Such evidence would show very clearly the charges have merit," Lynn said. "Certainly, if we are not presented with timely evidence we will not be able to proceed."
The differing responses from Republicans to the Newton resolution puzzled some observers including conservative talk radio show host Steve Gill.
Gill, who has made the Tennessee Waltz probe a mainstay of his program, said Hargett and other Republicans' reluctance to act on ousting Newton was troubling.
"The silence of the legislative leadership in calling for Newton's resignation and now stepping up on this is inexplicable unless they feel a next round of indictments may include more Republicans," Gill said. "They maybe don't want to set a standard they can't stick to down the road. The caution and quiet doesn't make sense from a policy or political standpoint. The public is disgusted."
Newton said Thursday he will decide next week whether to resign.
"I'm going to be out and about over the holiday weekend, and I'm going to listen to people," Newton told The Associated Press. "I'm going to gauge their reaction and make a determination next Tuesday. As of today, I'm not resigning."
Managing Editor Clint Brewer can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 13 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.