Tennessee Is Winning the Misbehaving State Legislator Contest

A Tennessee lawmaker blames the media for covering her desk-carving incident

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If you follow the funny goings-on of state legislatures, you might remember a February headline about the Republican state representative from Tennessee who credited her political success to Hooters. "If I could make it at Hooters, I could make it anywhere," wrote Julia Hurley in Hooters magazine. The nontroversy passed and Hurley went back to legislating largely unnoticed outside Nashville -- until this week. Hurley found herself back in national headlines by carving her name into her desk at the State Capitol. Her boss did not approve.

"In the excitement of being a freshman at the end of session, Representative Hurley etched her initials into her desk," House Speaker Beth Harwell told the Associated Press. "As with any state property, we will take action to have the desk restored, and I'm sure Representative Hurley will be more than happy to compensate the state to make the repairs."

Evidently the carving incident happened in late May, but papers are just getting around to covering it. When prodded for more information by her hometown newspaper, the Knoxville News Sentinel, Hurley admitted to the carving and spit back:

"It was like one in the morning on the last day of the session,” Hurley said of that late-night session in May. “I wasn’t thinking straight. … 

“To ask me details about what happened three months ago, I couldn’t tell you,” the first-term lawmaker said. “I don’t understand why it’s news, and I don’t want to talk about the desk.”

As if the Hooters incident wasn't enough of a PR gaffe, Hurley's response sends the wrong message again. The News Sentinel has promised more details as the story develops, but we hear Hurley's point. In the mid-summer news doldrums, reporters tend to latch onto any old story they find interesting. (This blogger is no exception. [Ed: I've noticed.]) But to the Sentinel's credit, the newspaper is shining a light on Hurley, an elected official who's now making it a habit to say and do things that seem terribly embarrassing to her constituents. Holding lawmakers accountable seems like a newsworthy enough cause, no? Perhaps rather than turning blame towards the press for their poor sense of news, Hurley could've spun this in her favor. In the U.S. Senate, it's an old tradition for Senators to carve their names into their desks--albeit into the drawer rather than the finished top. What a leader Hurley would seem if she just said she was trying to start a new tradition in Tennessee!

Nevertheless, we're tacking this onto a long list of crazy state legislature stories from this year. Like the one about the New Hampshire bill to establish a force to protect the state against invasion. Or the Kansas state lawmaker who suggested shooting illegal immigrants like wild hogs. Or the Tennessee bill prohibiting the practice of Shariah law? Or the Tennessee legislation making it illegal to share your Netflix password. We're noticing a Tennessee trend here.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.