From my catbird seat in Georgia just south of Chattanooga, Tenn., I watched agape on April 6, 2023, while racist Tennessee legislators kicked fellow elected officials out of their club.
Democratic legislators Justin Jones, Gloria Johnson, and Justin Pearson sat through hours of “debate” about their offenses. What did they do to garner what may be the ultimate punishment in a legislative body? They calmly walked to the front of the chamber and joined in chants of support for sane gun laws with protesters in the gallery.
This was simply too much for rule-abiding Republicans that hold a supermajority. They decried this horrible breach of decorum led three Republicans to immediately file three separate resolutions to oust their colleagues.
The Nation, in an article titled “The Tennessee GOP’s Shameful Expulsion of 2 Black Legislators” touched on some precedents.
It’s worth noting that [former House Speaker Glen] Casada, the GOP leader at the center of that episode, was forced to resign after he was arrested on 20 federal counts stemming from a bribery and kickback scheme. As Jones noted in his eloquent speech before the assembly yesterday, Casada never came up for an expulsion vote, nor did members who had committed child molestation, domestic violence, and sexual harassment. Indeed, a member who had urinated on another member’s seat—a textbook example of the “poor decorum” charge that Jones and Pearson were railroaded out of the legislature on—suffered no expulsion vote. There have been just three expulsion votes in the legislature’s history. The most recent, in 2016, resulted in the expulsion of Jeremy Durham, who was investigated for months after more than 20 women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment.
After three lengthy dog and pony shows, legislators gathered the necessary votes to expel two black men from the statehouse; however, they could not muster enough votes to expel their white colleague from office. From my seat, it reeks of the racist fascism rumbling through our democracy. This note in The New Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition reminds us what fascism looks like.
Fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach.
The people of their respective districts knew who they voted for and that’s why they sent them to Nashville. Those representatives are able to run again for the same seats. My hope is their constituents will reward their bravery by returning them to Nashville.