The details thus far are sketchy, but two things stand out about the saga of state Senator Paul Stanley and his 22-year-old former legislative intern, McKensie Morrison: (1) The two of them seem to have had some sort of sexual relationship; and (2) explicit photographs of Morrison, apparently taken in Stanley’s Nashville apartment, were used in an attempt to blackmail the Germantown legislator.
The story apparently first surfaced Tuesday in a Nashville TV station’s report on an arrest affidavit charging Morrison’s boyfriend, 28-year-old Joel Palmer Watts, with an attempt last April to extort $10,000 from Stanley, married with two children, in return for the photographs. At that point, Stanley contacted the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Watts’ arrest followed.
What makes this story different from several others the public has grown familiar with is not necessarily that Stanley, as a legislator, has been identified with a number of family values issues — introducing a bill while a House member that prohibited the showing of pornographic materials in a moving vehicle and taking a prominent role this past session in opposing legislation enabling adoption by gay parents.
After all, Mark Sanford, the errant governor of South Carolina, idol of the Moral Majority, and onetime presidential prospect, was just recently exposed as a philanderer (and a long-distance one at that), and former Congressman Mark Foley, another righteous solon, was discovered to have hit on male pages, and no one has forgotten — or will ever forget — Senator Larry Craig’s wide bathroom stance or, for that matter, the Oval office escapades of Bill Clinton, a former president (who, however, was not especially prone to wearing moralistic causes on his sleeve).
While all of the above left traces of their indiscretions, ranging from emails to DNA stains, none of them, so far as is known, made photographic records of their deeds, as Senator Stanley may have. Another possibility, that a third party took the pictures in Stanley’s presence, is too kinky to imagine. There is, however, yet a third scenario, significantly more exculpatory — that Morrison herself, with the aid of a self-timer or a confederate (e.g., Watts) may have taken the pictures without Stanley’s cooperation or knowledge.
In any case, the senator — who was employed as an account manager with the now discredited Stanford Group (though not implicated or charged himself) — is up against it. “Judge not lest ye be judged” goes the Biblical injunction, but a public official unavoidably will be judged, at election time if not earlier.
What is remarkable, given the strain Stanley was under during this last session, is that, instead of hunkering down, he kept on taking prominent roles in controversial legislation — e.g., in sponsoring a bill, which ultimately and narrowly failed, that would have prohibited local political jurisdictions from passing “living wage” ordinances.
Technically, Stanley is the victim in this case, though he was more self-victimizer than not, and he did the right thing by calling in the TBI once things had progressed to that pass. Public officials involved in these circumstances have no choice if they intend to keep on pursuing their political careers: They must express contrition and must do so quickly and believably.
Even then, it is a judgment call by their families or constituents as to whether they are forgiven, and Paul Stanley’s lot is complicated by the existence of those blackmail photographs. Much of Stanley’s fate, personal and political, will be determined when it is discovered just how those pictures came into being.