Upstate lawmakers stunned by Westmoreland's death

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Total shock.
   That is how Northeast Tennessee legislators described their reaction upon hearing the news that Rep. Keith Westmoreland had died of an apparent suicide Wednesday evening.
   "Representatives Jason Mumpower, (David) Davis, and (Steve) Godsey and I were standing together when Jason got a call," said Sen. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville. "We all just stood and looked at each other for about five minutes."
   The lawmakers had gathered at the state Republican Party headquarters in Nashville Wednesday night after the General Assembly's regular session.
   "It was an absolute, total shock," said Ramsey. "Keith and I came into the General Assembly together in 1992 and we were very good friends. He was an outstanding legislator."
   Mumpower, R-Bristol, said he received a call from a Sullivan County Republican Party member informing him of Westmoreland's death. He said he had seen Westmoreland briefly on the House floor during Wednesday's legislative session.
   "I just got to speak to him and say hello," Mumpower said. "It was a hectic time on the floor today and I didn't get to talk to him."
   Mumpower said he saw no indication that Westmoreland was distraught or upset.
   "Everything seemed as usual," he said.
   Governor Don Sundquist told The Associate Press, "Keith was an excellent legislator and a good friend who did so much for his constituents and his state."
   Westmoreland had served on the House Judiciary Committee. He previously was a county executive for Sullivan County and chief deputy for the Sullivan County Sheriff's Department. He was once being touted to become a member of the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors.
   He was running unopposed for re-election to the Second District House seat.
   Westmoreland was married and had two children. He had been a member of numerous civic and business organizations around the Tri-Cities.
   Davis, R-Johnson City, who served on the House Government Operations Committee with Westmoreland, said he saw Westmoreland on the House floor Wednesday but did not speak to him.
   "He was a very effective legislator, and probably one of the smartest members of the House," he said. "He was one of the legislators you could turn to that understood how the system worked."
   The Johnson City representative said the accusations leveled against Westmoreland had created sadness for the upstate lawmaker and the Legislature.
   "Anytime you have a colleague accused of doing something, you are saddened for that person and for the institution itself," he said.
   Davis said he was unaware if Republican party officials or House leaders had discussed asking Westmoreland to resign his office based on the charges brought against him in Florida.
   "There was not time for that type of thing to have taken place," he said.