|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Tennessee's 4th district
January 3, 2011
Scott Eugene DesJarlais
February 21, 1964
Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Susan DesJarlais (div. 1998)|
Amy DesJarlais (m. 2002)
|Education||University of South Dakota (BS, MD)|
Scott Eugene DesJarlais (; born February 21, 1964) is an American politician and physician serving as the U.S. Representative for Tennessee's 4th congressional district since 2011. The district stretches across East and Middle Tennessee. He is a member of the Republican Party.
DesJarlais was born in 1964 in Des Moines, Iowa to Joe DesJarlais, a barber, and Sylvia, a registered nurse. He grew up in Sturgis, South Dakota. Over ten years he, his parents and his brother and sister built their own house in Sturgis; his parents still live there. DesJarlais earned his undergraduate degree in Chemistry and Psychology from the University of South Dakota in 1987 and his Doctor of Medicine from the University of South Dakota School of Medicine in 1991. He moved to East Tennessee in 1993 to practice medicine as a generalist.
DesJarlais is a member of the Tea Party movement. In 2009 he entered politics, filing papers to challenge Democratic incumbent Lincoln Davis, as well as Independents Paul H. Curtis, James Gray, Richard S. Johnson, and Gerald York.
Late in the 2010 race, the Washington newspaper Roll Call reported details of DesJarlais's 2001 divorce proceedings, which showed that his ex-wife accused him of harassment, intimidation and physical abuse. The Davis campaign used the material in print and TV attack ads and told Roll Call that Fourth District voters "expect[ed] more than lip service about family values."
DesJarlais defeated Davis 57%-39%.
By the 2012 election, the Fourth District had been significantly altered as a result of redistricting. Notably, Murfreesboro, formerly the heart of the 6th District, was shifted into the 4th. At the same time, the 4th lost most of its northeastern portion, including its shares of the Tri-Cities and Knoxville markets. The redrawn 4th contains about half of the constituents who resided in the former 4th district, with 14 of 24 counties moved elsewhere.
DesJarlais was challenged by Democratic nominee and state senator Eric Stewart. For a time, it was thought that DesJarlais would face a primary challenge from state senator Bill Ketron, a Murfreesboro resident and the chairman of the state senate redistricting committee, but Ketron did not run. DesJarlais defeated Stewart 56%-44%, joining all the other incumbent members of Tennessee congressional delegation in winning reelection.
In October 2012 the Huffington Post obtained a transcript of a September 2000 phone conversation in which DesJarlais pressured a mistress to get an abortion. DesJarlais repeatedly denied that he himself had taped the conversation. In October he wrote to supporters on Facebook, "The media wrongly reported that I recorded the conversation myself. I was recorded unknowingly and without my consent." Nine days before the general election a second woman came forward to state that she began dating DesJarlais while she was his patient. She alleged that the two smoked marijuana together and that he prescribed opioids for her while she was at his house.
Two weeks after DesJarlais won the 2012 election, the Chattanooga Times Free Press obtained a full transcript of DesJarlais's 2001 divorce proceedings. The transcript revealed that DesJarlais had admitted under oath to at least six sexual relationships with people he came in contact with while chief of staff at Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, Tennessee. Among them were three co-workers, two patients and a drug representative. The transcript also revealed that his former wife had had two abortions, and that DesJarlais had admitted under oath that he and his former wife had recorded the phone conversation with the mistress. "One of the biggest mistakes I made was I commented to the press before I had the opportunity to go back and read a transcript that was 13, 14 years old," he said in an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel. "It was never my intention to mislead anyone, and had I read this, I don't think the inaccuracies that occurred would have taken place."
Three weeks after he won the election, DesJarlais said on a conservative talk radio show that "God has forgiven me" and asked "fellow Christians" and constituents "to consider doing the same."
In October 2012, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) requested that the Tennessee Board of Health investigate evidence that DesJarlais had had a sexual relationship with a patient, in violation of the Tennessee Medical Practice Act. The complaint was investigated and in May 2013 DesJarlais was formally reprimanded by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners for having sex with patients and fined $500, calculated by the Board as "$250 per patient", and $1000 in costs. He did not contest the charges.
In November 2012, after further details of the divorce proceedings were published, CREW asked the House of Representatives' Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether DesJarlais had violated House ethics rules, asserting that he had "blatantly" lied when he denied having taped the telephone conversation.
In 2014 DesJarlais's seat was considered vulnerable, as controversy over the divorce record revelations returned to the fore. He had been reelected in 2012 with a reduced majority. DesJarlais held his seat.
State senator Jim Tracy challenged DesJarlais in the primary. At the end of June 2013, Tracy had raised nearly $750,000 (including over $300,000 in the second quarter of 2013) for his bid. He raised an additional $150,000 in the fourth quarter and reported $840,000 cash on hand. By contrast, at the end of September, DesJarlais reported $170,000 cash on hand. DesJarlais won the primary by 38 votes. Tracy decided not to challenge the results, despite citing irregularities.
In January 2016 Politico rated Tennessee's Fourth District one of the top five primary races to watch, and in March ranked DesJarlais one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the 2016 cycle; he was one of only two Tennessee incumbents to face serious challenge. His primary opponents were attorney and conservative activist Grant Starrett, attorney and physician Yomi "Fapas" Faparusi and economic data specialist Erran Persley. The Murfreesboro Post described Starrett as "running to the right of DesJarlais". After winning the primary, DesJarlais beat Democrat Steven Reynolds in the general election by a margin of 30 points.
During a trial for his divorce from his first wife in 2000, DesJarlais testified that he had sexual affairs with at least two patients, three coworkers and a drug representative while he was working as a hospital chief of staff.
Despite his public opposition to legal abortion, DesJarlais encouraged his ex-wife to terminate two pregnancies and encouraged a former patient with whom he was having an affair to get an abortion.
In July 2014, DesJarlais announced he was undergoing aggressive chemotherapy to treat cancer in his neck that had spread to a lymph node. In a campaign appearance during his illness DesJarlais said that the cancer had affected his voice but added that the type is curable 90% of the time. The cancer and chemotherapy caused him to lose over 40 pounds, limiting his ability to make appearances and campaign. In June 2015, DesJarlais announced that he was cancer-free.