Tennessee GOP responds to school shootings by kicking out the protesters (Local News Tips & Reviews)

When so many Republicans rushed to defend Donald Trump after he was charged with fiddling with the books in order to disguise hush-money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels, I figured the self-described law-and-order, family-values party had reached a new low. 

Wait, I didn’t mean an all-time low. Let’s be real. I was thinking, though, surely a low for the week.

Still, I knew there’d be rivals, and I’ve picked out a few to mention. (By the way, please note that I’m skipping Justice Clarence Thomas’ billionaire-friend-with-benefits issue because that would require an entire column, or maybe three or four columns, to adequately cover.)

But in Idaho, for example, the governor signed a so-called “abortion trafficking” law that makes it illegal for anyone to help a minor leave the state for an abortion without parental consent. It’s also illegal now in Idaho for anyone to obtain abortion pills for a minor. And not only that, the penalty in either case would be two to five years in prison. This is part of a trend — seen in many red-state legislatures across the country—  to not only ban abortion in most cases but to criminalize it. Maybe Marjorie Taylor Greene is onto something about a red-blue national divorce.

Meanwhile, in nearby Montana, where Sen. Jon Tester — Montana’s only Democratic statewide office holder — is up for re-election next year, one house of the state legislature has passed a bill to create a “jungle primary,” meaning all parties compete in one primary and the top two candidates go to the general election. The problem here is not jungle primaries themselves, which are fine, but that the proposed law, which would sunset in 2025, was written for one race — Tester’s race — and one race only, which doesn’t seem altogether fair or democratic.

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It’s probably not a coincidence that Tester’s race is one that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate after the 2024 elections. The idea is to keep third-party candidates off the ballot, particularly those who might draw votes from a Republican. But — and I think I mentioned this — it applies only to the 2024 U.S. Senate race in Montana and no other election. Democracy? Hmmm.

Speaking of democracy, we move now to Tennessee, not that I’d ever consider actually moving there. It’s in Tennessee where we hit bottom for the week, although I’m sure there are worthy contenders I’ve left out. I mean, who can even keep up with all the new transphobic legislation?

But in Tennessee, as I’m sure you’ve heard, they went way over the top in order to hit bottom. The state House voted to expel two of its members, and nearly expelled a third, for the crime, in the Tennessee House speaker’s words, of violating “several rules of decorum and procedure on the House floor.”

Yes, both decorum and procedure. And what issue led them to this outrage? Well, it was the murders of six people, including three 9-year-olds, at the Covenant School in Nashville. Sometimes, a crime is so heinous that decorum and procedure almost seem secondary.

The three legislators — two African-American men and one white woman; can you guess which one wasn’t expelled? — walked down to the well of the House, without permission, bringing a bullhorn with them to lead protesters in support of a no-chance notion to ban so-called assault weapons in the state and to pass bills covering other gun-safety issues.

The shooter had three weapons with him, and according to police, two of them were AR-style assault weapons. And since the shooting, students and others have been marching to the Capitol in an attempt to make their voices heard. Thousands were inside and outside the Capitol, according to reports, on what we’ll call The Day of the Bullhorn.

But since the protesters weren’t being heard — let’s agree that the overwhelmingly Republican legislature may want to ban abortions and drag shows and books, but certainly not guns — the three Democrats broke the rules.

I’m not suggesting that breaking the rules should necessarily go unpunished. The Tennessee Three, as they’re being called, did lose their committee assignments. They could be censured. For all I know, in Tennessee the legislature could pass a law banning bullhorns.

Or the legislators in question could have spent their time considering any form of gun-safety bill instead of conducting a show trial — in which they expelled the state’s two youngest Black legislators, Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, and came one vote short of expelling Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white. Johnson didn’t use the bullhorn, but she did go down to the well with Jones and Pearson and joined in the chants.

Asked why she thought she wasn’t expelled along with her two colleagues, Johnson said, “It might have to do with the color of my skin.”

I can’t look into the hearts, or any other organs, of the Tennessee legislators, but let’s just say a lot of people agreed with Johnson’s assessment. There have been only eight Tennessee legislators expelled in state history, and six of them were Confederates who were kicked out just after the Civil War because they had, um, issues with how the war ended.

And here’s some small-d democratic irony for you:

Since the expulsions began immediately after the vote, that means that the two vacancies in the House will have to be filled. Jones represents Nashville, and news reports have said that Nashville’s Metro Council — which is equivalent to a city council and which can select the interim representative — will reappoint Jones in a vote on Monday until a special election is called.

Pearson is from Memphis, and don’t be surprised if he is back, too. Tennessee Republicans have seen the expulsions become a national story, and one that will help ensure that gun violence is a major issue in the 2024 presidential election. Even if many red states are loosening gun laws, polls show that a large majority of Americans favor more restrictions. 

And so, Joe Biden, who is expected to announce his reelection bid in the near future, has already called the expulsions “undemocratic.” Also, “shocking” and “without precedent.” Kamala Harris traveled to Nashville Friday to meet with the Tennessee Three.

A nation revolted by school violence can now also be revolted by this Tennessee assault on democracy, in which those voters who elected the two expelled representatives were also unfairly punished.

In a speech made on the House floor prior to the expulsion vote, Jones said, “The world is watching Tennessee. What is happening here today is a farce of democracy. What’s happening here today is a situation in which the jury has already publicly announced the verdict.”

On the same day, Pearson reminded those who would expel him that the United States was born in acts of protest.

And according to the history books — including those that have been approved in both red and blue states — the protests, it seems, were not always decorous. And yet, at least for a little while, democracy won out anyway.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

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