NASHVILLE -- Pyschologist Frank Farley is not surprised that a male politician like state Sen. Paul Stanley, R-Germantown, can find himself in an ugly mess triggered by what Tennessee state investigators say the lawmaker acknowledged to them was a "sexual relationship" with a 22-year-old intern.
No, what is surprising for Dr. Farley, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, is that even more elected office holders haven't joined the growing ranks of philandering politicians that most recently have included U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.; South Carolina Republican Gov. Mark Sanford; and 2008 Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.
A former president of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Farley said he thinks that many elected politicians are, in a sense, wired for such mischief through personalities built for risk taking and dealing with uncertainty.
"It has very high levels of risk, uncertainty, novelty, variety, intensity," Dr. Farley said of a politicians' job. "It's a very intense job, intense in all sorts of levels, emotionally and otherwise."
"Put that together with opportunities for sex -- admiring people, people who look up to you etc.," Dr. Farley said. "So you've got a certain set of personality qualities confronting an opportunity. Honestly, I think it's surprising we don't see it more often."
He has created a term to describe politicians' predilection for risk taking. He calls it the "Type T personality." That's "T" as in thrill-seeker, Dr. Farley said. There are plenty of "positive" Type T politicians whose boldness and innovativeness make them desirable for public office, he said.
"But sometimes there's a price to pay," he said, citing "negative" Type T characteristics such as infidelity.
Sen. Stanley's apparent thrill seeking on Capitol Hill has turned into a political nightmare that may end up destroying the political career of the 47-year-old married father of two.
Over the weekend, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who is Senate speaker, called the senator's relations with an intern "unconscionable" and noted he told Sen. Stanley he needed to give up his chairmanship of the Senate Committee, which the senator did. Lt. Gov. Ramsey said the chairmanship was the only thing he can control and appeared to hint it may be time for the senator to go.
"I'm not going to say that resignation from the Senate is going to be out of order," Lt. Gov. Ramsey said.
In his only public statement, Sen. Stanley recently said "unfortunately, I am the victim and a witness to a crime in an ongoing investigation. At this time, I have been advised by authorities and the District Attorney's office not to comment. There is already misinformation being inferred regarding this matter which I look forward to clearing up at the appropriate time."
But according to a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent's sworn affidavit, Sen. Stanley told investigators he had a "sexual relationship" with his intern, 22-year-old McKensie Morrison. The court documents also describe as "provactive" posed photos of Ms. Morrison. It all ended in April when an alleged blackmail plot against the senator by Ms. Morrison's angry boyfriend, Joel Watts, is said to have begun with a text message seeking to sell the senator the photos for $10,000.
The TBI set up a sting. Mr. Watts, 27, was arrested and last week was bound over to a Davidson County Grand Jury on extortion charges.
University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato said political sex scandals are erupting more frequently these days.
"I don't know whether it's (occuring) more or whether we're simply covering it more extensively," he said. "The media are much more open to reporting it than they once were. ... You got blogs publishing rumors about everybody."
Dr. Sabato said the public should remember that "a substantial majority of them (politicians) don't do this."
Still, he said, "I do think there is something in the genetic makeup of politicians that encourages this type of behavior. They are risk takers."
Many of the most recently fallen politicians have been conservative Republicans who have taken strong stands on "family values." Count Sen. Stanley among them. He pushed legislation this year that sought to ban gay couples from adopting children by making it illegal for any unmarried couple to adopt a child.
In a Thursday posting on the Nashville political blog, Post Politics at NashvillePost.com, Joan Carr, executive of Planned Parenthood of the Greater Memphis Region, said the senator had told her earlier this year while the TBI-confirmed affair was ongoing that he "didn't believe young people should have sex before marriage."
She called it hypocritical.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga political science professor Robert Swansbrough said hypocrisy "really is the issue that gets people angry."
"They know people have human foibles," Dr. Swansbrough said. "It's the question of hypocrisy, of criticizing others and they (politicians) are knowingly going about it. There's a certain amount of hubris there, an arrogance there, that they can get away with anything and they can criticize others harshly."
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...