Tennessee Secedes From Sanity In Expulsion Of Legislative Dissenters

Tennessee Secedes From Sanity In Expulsion Of Legislative Dissenters

Expelled Tennessee representatives Justin Jones, Gloria Johnson, and Justin Pearson

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Funerals were conducted earlier this week for the three children and three adults killed by gunfire at the Convent school in Nashville. With the bodies of the victims freshly in the ground, the Tennessee General Assembly voted largely along party lines to expel two of three legislators who joined chants of “power to the people” during a demonstration against gun violence in the House last week.

Both of the expelled legislators, Democratic Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, are Black. The third Democratic legislator who joined the protest in the well of the house, Gloria Johnson, is white. She was not expelled.

The vote to expel Johnson by a two-thirds majority failed by one vote, 65 to 30. The votes to expel Jones and Pearson were 72 to 25 and 69 to 26, respectively.

The racism of the votes to expel two Black members while sparing the white member, was clearly evident. A seven-minute video of the protest played during the debate on the measure to expel showed all three of the Democratic legislators standing and speaking in the well of the chamber after they had been gaveled out of order by Cameron Sexton, the speaker of the Tennessee House.

“What is my crime?” argued Rep. Johnson during the debate. “I did it for the kids in my district, for the kids in the state, for the kids in this community.”

Rep. Jones was outraged, comparing the offense he was accused of with the behavior of other Tennessee legislators: “For years, one of your colleagues, who was an admitted child molester, sat in this chamber — no expulsion. One member sits in this chamber who was found guilty of domestic violence — no expulsion. We have a member currently under federal investigation — no expulsion. We had a member pee in another member’s chair in this chamber — no expulsion, in fact they’re in leadership in the governor’s administration.”

Rep. Andrew Farmer, the Republican who proposed the expulsion measures against the three Democrats, called the protest “a temper tantrum.” “That’s why you’re standing there, because of that temper tantrum that day. Because of that yearning to have attention. That’s what you wanted. Well, you’re getting it now,” Farmer told the Democrats.

Rep. Pearson responded with a fiery speech many have compared to the speeches of Martin Luther King. Addressing the Assembly from the podium, Pearson asked, “How many of you want to be spoken to that way?” He continued, “The reason that I believe the sponsor of this legislation, of this resolution, spoke that way is because he’s comfortable doing it, because there’s a decorum that allows it. There is a decorum that allows you to belittle people, and we didn’t below nobody.”

Pearson went on, “The erosion of democracy in the state legislature is what got us here. It wasn’t walking up to the well, it wasn’t being disruptive to the status quo, it was the silencing of democracy and it’s wrong.”

Alluding to his eventual return to the legislature after a special election is held, Pearson said, “Resurrection is a promise. It is a prophecy, a prophecy that came out of the cotton fields. It’s a prophecy that came out of the lynching tree. It’s a prophecy that still lives in each and every one of us in order to make the state of Tennessee the place that it ought to be. And so I’ve still got off because I know we are still here and we will never quit.”

Before the votes to expel the Democratic lawmakers, the Tennessee legislature passed bills that would provide money to fund armed guards for schools and to fund mental health care for survivors of gun violence who are sent to a hospital. Yesterday, the legislature proposed a bill that would arm teachers in Tennessee schools. In 2021, Tennessee Republicans passed a law allowing anyone over 21 to carry a gun either openly or concealed without a license. The legislature is currently considering a bill to lower the age for unlicensed carry to 18, allowing college students to carry guns on campus.

The Assembly took up none of the legislation proposed by Democrats to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, or to expand background checks and raise the age required to buy a gun from 18 to 21.

Both legislators expelled from the Tennessee Assembly have vowed to run in special elections for their seats and return to the legislature. Protests against gun violence in Tennessee schools are expected to continue tomorrow.

This isn’t over.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

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