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In the 2020 election, Donald Trump beat Joe Biden 61% to 37% in the state of Tennessee.
No doubt, Tennessee is a red state — the tenth reddest in the country according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
But because of radical and self-serving gerrymandering on the part of Republican governors and lawmakers, the state’s legislature is even more partisan than its populace.
- Tennessee’s state legislature has a Senate and a House of Representatives.
- The Senate has 33 seats. Currently, there are 27 Republicans and only 6 Democrats — an 82% Republican mega-majority.
- The House has 99 seats. Currently, there are 75 Republicans and only 22 Democrats — a 76% Republican mega-majority.
- You may have noticed in the previous item that 75 and 22 add up to 97, not 99.
- Good catch.
On Thursday — in the kind of brazen and anti-democratic stunt that is consuming the GOP — Republicans in the Tennessee House expelled two of their Democratic colleagues, summarily ending their current terms and depriving their constituents of representation.
How did we get here?
- On March 27, six people — three 9-year-old children and three adults — were killed by a shooter in Nashville, Tennessee.
- It is the deadliest school shooting in Tennessee history. (But — sickeningly, infuriatingly, absurdly — far from the worst in our nation’s recent history.)
- Because Republican politicians in Tennessee and at the federal level have stonewalled even basic gun reform, the military-grade assault rifles used by the shooter — who fired 152 bullets altogether — were purchased legally.
- Since the tragedy, citizens have been peacefully protesting at the Tennessee State Capitol (also in Nashville) for commonsense gun control measures.
- Earlier this week, three Democrats in the Tennessee House of Representatives joined activists who were chanting in the chamber.
- In a racist and disproportionate act of retaliation, the Republican mega-majority in the Tennessee House of Representatives — which is almost entirely white — voted to expel two of those Democrats, Rep. Justin Jones (Nashville) and Rep. Justin Pearson (Memphis).
- Jones and Pearson are both young Black men.
- The other Democratic representative who chanted alongside Jones and Pearson — Rep. Gloria Johnson (Knoxville) — was not expelled. She is white. Asked why she was not expelled when her Black colleagues were, Johnson said, “it might have to do with the color of our skin.”
In modern American history, expulsion of state legislators is very rare — not just in Tennessee but throughout the United States.
It is an extreme step almost always reserved for legislators who have been caught red-handed in bribery schemes or who commit egregious sexual offenses, and even then it is the exception not the rule.
But now we have Donald Trump’s Republican Party.
- Republicans whine endlessly about being “canceled” and about supposed attacks on free speech. Then they expel two duly-elected representatives for chanting (i.e. speaking!) in response to the horror of six of their fellow citizens being gunned down.
- Republicans are regulating books and drag performances. But not guns.
- Republicans call anyone who doesn’t agree with them a “snowflake” (i.e. something inherently fragile that can’t withstand the slightest pressure.) But when Republicans in the Tennessee House — who, again, have a Democrat-proof mega-majority — were faced with a few colleagues who challenged their utter failure to do anything useful about the carnage of gun violence, they lost their damn minds.
And there’s more:
- Some Tennessee Republicans compared their colleagues’ chanting to what happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
- Of course, not one member of Congress was expelled for promoting 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.
- Meanwhile, MAGA emails and social media posts are unironically calling the chanting in the Tennessee House an “insurrection.”
In their unhinged rage, Tennessee House Republicans have drawn infinitely more attention to the voices of the representatives and gun reform activists they were trying to silence.
They have made heroes of Reps. Jones and Pearson — who have risen to the moment by insisting, over and over, that what’s at stake is not their personal positions but the representation and voices of their constituents, the need to protect children from weapons of war, and the very functioning of democracy in Tennessee.
And they have exposed their own flagrant racism and political idiocy for all to see.
Please join me in a message to Representatives Jones, Pearson, and Johnson:
Thank you for your bravery and your commitment to principle. Thank you for standing up to the bullying, gun fetishism, and racism of the MAGA Republicans. Thank you for representing your constituents powerfully and honorably. Thank you.
Click now to add your name.
Thanks for taking action.
- Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen