The Tennessee Republican Party waited less than 24 hours to start fundraising off the expulsion of two progressive lawmakers from the state House—openly bragging Friday about what critics have called a blatantly anti-democratic move that shows the party’s growing authoritarianism.
State Reps. Justin Jones (D-52) and Justin Pearson (D-86) are two of three Democrats who joined protesters in interrupting a floor session on March 30 to demand gun control in the wake of last week’s deadly school shooting in Nashville. Tennessee House Republicans on Thursday voted to expel both Black men from the chamber while a vote to expel their colleague Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-13), who is white, fell short.
In a Friday fundraising email, the Tennessee GOP said: “Their adolescence and immature behavior brought dishonor to the Tennessee General Assembly as they admitted to knowingly breaking the rules. Actions have consequences, and we applaud House Republicans for having the conviction to protect the rules, the laws, and the prestige of the State of Tennessee.”
“Our fight is just beginning,” the email concludes.
— Phil Williams (@NC5PhilWilliams) April 7, 2023
Progressives members of Congress had already denounced Tennessee Republicans for engaging in what U.S. Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) called “straight-up fascism in its ugliest, most racist form” before the fundraising email emerged.
Now, the Tennessee GOP is portraying the state’s first partisan expulsion since the Civil War era as upholding “the rule of law” and is trying to capitalize on it.
Slate‘s Alexander Sammon warned that Thursday’s vote “is a chilling portent of the future of Republican governance and the state of democracy nationwide.”
“While Republicans have focused on gerrymandering and voter suppression as the primary prongs of their assault on democracy (as well as the occasional insurrection attempt),” he noted, “the willingness to expel democratically elected Democrats for minor, verging-on-made-up infractions portends a terrifying new development.”
In a Friday statement, Public Citizen president Robert Weissman condemned Tennessee House Republicans for “summarily ending” the current terms of Jones and Pearson and “depriving their constituents of duly elected representation.”
“This was a racist and disproportionate act of retaliation against legislators who had joined demonstrators chanting in the chamber, in protest of Republican refusal to adopt commonsense gun control measures in the wake of the March 27 school shooting in Nashville,” said Weissman, who called Tennessee Republicans’ move “flagrantly anti-democratic.”
“In modern American history, expulsion of state legislators is very rare—not just in Tennessee but throughout the United States, and rightfully so. Legislators should expel elected officials only in extreme circumstances, not over policy differences or impingements on decorum,” he continued. “Legislative supermajorities already have enormous power; when they wield that power to strip away even the offices of the minority, they are treading on very dangerous ground.”
As Weissman pointed out, “Some Tennessee legislators—and a lot of MAGA commentary online—are un-ironically calling the state representatives’ chanting an ‘insurrection.'”
“Of course, the United States did witness a real insurrection on January 6, 2021,” said Weissman. “Not one member of Congress was expelled for promoting [former President] Donald Trump’s patently false claims that the 2020 election was ‘stolen’ from him or for supporting the attempted coup carried out at Trump’s behest. Only 10 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives would vote to impeach Trump in the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, and only two of them were able to get re-elected.”
“American democracy is in a profound crisis, riven by lies, right-wing extremism, conspiratorial thinking, and subservience to corporate and special interests, and racism,” Weissman stressed. “What just happened in Tennessee is yet another reminder of the perilous state of our country.”
Nevertheless, he continued, “a hopeful future is also a visible feature of our nation, demonstrated in the courage and principle of the targeted representatives… and the energy and commitment of the protesters—overwhelmingly young people—demanding justice and commonsense gun regulation.”
“This is a powerful reminder that democracy does not die easily,” Weissman added. “Indeed, the energy in Tennessee will help inspire and power the nationwide movement not just to defend but to expand and deepen our democracy, and we are committed to rising to the occasion, and being part of this movement to make our country a more just and equitable place for all.”
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