Tennessee’s Brand of Democracy

Let’s begin this week’s blog post by (shockingly) agreeing with Tennessee Republicans on one narrow issue; namely, that it’s not okay for legislators to disrupt proceedings for over an hour by shouting into a battery-assisted bullhorn. That’s what Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Parker did. And it led to their expulsion from the Tennessee legislature. Representative Gloria Johnson missed being expelled by only the margin of a single vote. The reason for singling out the two men might have been because (a) they were seen using a bullhorn and she wasn’t, (b) they are Black and she is White, (c) they are young men and she is an older woman, or (d) some combination of all three (take your pick.) The vote was essentially along party lines, with Republicans voting to expel and Democrats voting not to expel. All three had already been removed from their committee assignments. See, https://www.cnn.com/2023/04/07/us/tennessee-democrat-house-representatives-expelled-friday/index.html

Despite the first sentence above regarding the impropriety of disrupting legislative sessions, Spirited Reasoners still have huge problems with the Tennessee legislature’s decision to expel two legislators for what amounts to minor disruption. Consider the following:

  • Other, more appropriate, measures could have been applied. For example, during the course of the bullhorn session, where was the sergeant-at-arms? Why were the shouters not simply escorted from the chambers?
  • Why did the legislature jump to expulsion rather than adopt an interim measure such as admonishment or censure? Why not adopt a censure measure that warns that further attempts to disrupt a legislative session could result in expulsion? Why jump to the most extreme punishment before trying something less draconian first?
  • If race, gender, and age did not play a part in Representative Gloria Johnson being saved from expulsion—i. e., if the only reason she was saved was because she was not seen using a bullhorn—then why did the vote against her fail by only a single vote? Why wasn’t she acquitted by a much greater margin? Note that despite her claims that she never shouted and never used a bullhorn, she was very nearly expelled from the legislature, all because she happened to agree with the arguments that were being made by the two men. See, https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2023/04/06/tennessee-expulsion-amid-protests-house-gop-expel-lawmakers/70085057007/
  • Why was the matter not referred to an ethics committee for investigation and a hearing? What happened to due process?

The problem with expulsion is that it leaves the voters in two Tennessee districts without representation, pending the appointment or election of replacement legislators. By their actions, Tennessee Republicans are making it clear that they don’t care a whole hoot about the voters in these districts because, after all, they elected two Democrats.

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