Tennessee House GOP Identifies a Problem: Systematically Solves Two-Thirds of It

It’s time to Break It Down!

Nashville has been abuzz the last couple of weeks; in the opinion of many, for the wrong reasons. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Nashville school shooting that took place on March 27, 2023. At the time I opted not to express the array of grisly details accompanying yet another too frequent horrific mass shooting tragedy. This post revisits, in a tangential way, that event.

After a shooter killed three 9-year-old students and three adults at a private Christian elementary school in Nashville, three Tennessee Representatives, Justin Jones, Gloria Johnson, and Justin Pearson, staged a demonstration on the State House floor in Nashville, calling for gun reform and leading chants with a bullhorn.

According to Jones, he and the other lawmakers had been blocked from speaking about gun violence on the House floor, saying their microphones were cut off whenever they raised the topic. Following their demonstrations, Republican House Speaker Cameron Saxton called their actions “unacceptable” and argued that they broke “several rules of decorum and procedure on the House floor.”

Last week, three resolutions were filed seeking the expulsion of Jones, Johnson, and Pearson. All three had already been stripped of their committee assignments, following the protest. The resolutions, filed by Republican Reps. Bud Hulsey, Gina Bulso, and Andrew Farmer, alleged the lawmakers “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor.”

Moreover, Tennessee GOP Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison told CNN that the caucus believed the issue did not need to be considered by an ethics committee, and accused the two Justins (Jones and Pearson), of having a “history” of disrupting floor proceedings.

He asserted, “It’s not possible for us to move forward with the way they were behaving in committee and on the House floor.”

Not surprisingly, the Tennessee Democratic Party chair, Hendrell Remus, called the move a “direct political attack” on the Party.

He added, “Their expulsion sets a dangerous new precedent for political retribution.  The day that a majority can simply expel a member of the opposing party without legitimate cause threatens the fabric of democracy in our state and creates a reckless roadmap for GOP controlled state legislatures across the nation.”

For context, it’s worth noting, the Tennessee House had only expelled two other representatives since Reconstruction…which warrants its own conversation…but not today. The move does require a two-thirds majority vote of total members. In Tennessee, as in several other State Legislatures, Republicans just happen to have a Supermajority.

There is a lot to digest here. Some of it said, some of it left unsaid. First and foremost, the GOP Caucus chair, and the Republican Party members who authored the Resolution spoke about disorder, dishonor, and disruption. Where’s Jesse Jackson when you need him? The King of alliteration would certainly have added another D-word: Distraction. The Republican House Supermajority, by choosing to create a spectacle, and lean into the theatrics of expulsion of two Democratic House members, created a distraction from the issue that led to the imbroglio, in the first place: mass shootings.

Second, conservatives frequently recoil whenever the topic of race emerges as an audible theme in conversations on the public square. Yet, they all too frequently create environments in which not mentioning race would be tantamount to malpractice. The expulsion example is just such a case. Three representatives were engaged in the protest: two Black men, and one White woman. All three were cited for their behavior. Each member was voted on individually. The Black men were expelled; the White woman was not.

Mr. Faison claimed the two Black men have a history of being disruptive. The fact is, they were cited for this protest, not for their historical actions. In this instance, any effort to parse the behavior of the three members results in a distinction without a difference. The action sounds very much like a case of UNS, Uppity Negro Syndrome…a popular practice of putting a Black man or woman in their place…because they’ve gotten out of their lane, too big for their britches, too smart, too loud, too successful, or some other excess, such that the comfort of some assembly of White people is compromised. A course correction is deemed in order. In this case, expulsion.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting Gloria Johnson should have been expelled. Representative Johnson is an ally. There was no reason to expel her…or to expel Representatives Jones or Pearson. The GOP Supermajority was flexing, another way of saying, feeling themselves.

Somewhere along the way, the stigma of being called, or thought to be racist, came to be deemed more onerous than doing or saying racist things. When you think about it, what a genius strategic design. If one can make the penalty steep enough for characterizing certain racist words or acts as racist, even though they are, people will, to promote comity, avoid calling out the behavior, thus freeing folks to commit racist acts, without fear of pushback or punishment. 

In the final analysis, the lawmakers ignored a pressing problem, and in doing so, created another one. “Tennessee House GOP Identifies a Problem; Systematically Solves Two-Thirds of It!”

I’m done; holla back!

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4 thoughts on “Tennessee House GOP Identifies a Problem: Systematically Solves Two-Thirds of It

  1. These words really spoke to me today : “If one can make the penalty steep enough for characterizing certain racist words or acts as racist, even though they are, people will, to promote comity, avoid calling out the behavior, thus freeing folks to commit racist acts, without fear of pushback or punishment.”
    Very true and I never thought about it that way. Thank you for your essays. I love the way you think.

    Liked by 1 person

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