NATIONAL NEWS

How Tennessee GOP’s majority used power to expel Democrats

Apr 7, 2023, 2:50 PM

Former Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, waves to his supporters in the gallery as he delivers his fi...

Former Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, waves to his supporters in the gallery as he delivers his final remarks on the floor of the House chamber as he is expelled from the legislature Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Tennessee Republicans ousted two of three House Democrats for using a bullhorn to shout support for pro-gun control protesters in the House chamber. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/George Walker IV)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The expulsion of two Tennessee Democrats over a gun control protest is an extraordinary showcase of how the levers of single-party power in America’s statehouses can be pulled not only to shut down opponents, but to also punish them.

On any given day in Tennessee, Republicans have the commanding majority to pass just about any law they want. The lopsided dynamic is common in many U.S. statehouses — including where Democrats are in charge — and it has widened under gerrymandered voting maps that redraw legislative district boundaries to dilute the opposition party’s votes.

But in ousting Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson altogether from the Tennessee Legislature on Thursday, Republicans went beyond their typical ability to steamroll Democrats. They instead maximized their parliamentary power to exact retribution.

Not only did Republicans have the votes to oust the lawmakers — one of the few times such drastic action has been taken since the Civil War — they suspended legislative rules of procedure to hasten the process.

The expulsions reverberated far beyond Tennessee, with Democrats in states where they’re similarly outnumbered taking notice. GOP leaders defended their actions as necessary to send a message that disruptive protests in the Tennessee House would not be tolerated.

A third Democrat, Rep. Gloria Johnson, was narrowly spared expulsion by a one-vote margin.

“The erosion of democracy in the state Legislature is what got us here,” Pearson said after his ouster. “It wasn’t walking up to the well, it wasn’t being disruptive to the status quo, it was the silencing of democracy and it’s wrong.”

THE TENNESSEE VOTE

In Tennessee, Republicans hold a supermajority control in both the House and Senate and have wielded full control of the Legislature since 2008.

But in the House, GOP members have increasingly used parliamentary maneuvers to cut off debate – particularly on controversial topics ranging from abortion to LGBTQ+ issues and guns. Republicans have used a legislative tactic known as “calling the question,” which forces an immediate vote on a bill and cuts off debate that can otherwise stretch on for hours.

In the days leading to the expulsion hearing, Republicans also employed what’s known as “suspending the rules,” which allows lawmakers to sidestep usual procedure — such as what happened on Thursday, when lawmakers suspended rules to allow the so-called “Tennessee three” to defend themselves.

Suspending the rules is not always divisive — it can be used to speed up passage of uncontentious bills, for example — but it can also inflame tensions.

Democrats who spoke during Thursday spent most of their time calling on Republicans to pass some sort of gun control legislation in the aftermath of the Nashville school shooting. But they also accused their GOP colleagues of having used the rules to keep debate to a minimum on other topics throughout the legislative session.

Several Democrats joked Thursday how they normally weren’t allowed to talk at such length but got a minor break of sorts during the hearing because of to the national attention it had attracted.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican, dismissed suggestions that Democrats have been silenced, saying lawmakers have many opportunities to speak up during legislative committee hearings and on the House floor.

“We haven’t had anybody complain,” Sexton said. “People raise their hands to be recognized. I don’t know who is going to call the question.”

LEGISLATIVE TACTICS

The aggressive actions by Tennessee Republicans demonstrated a flip side to parliamentary tactics that lawmakers in the minority often use to as a last-ditch effort to thwart the other side. Among the most common are filibusters, in which lawmakers try to run out the clock on a bill through lengthy speeches.

In Nebraska, a filibuster brought lawmaking to a standstill for weeks this year over GOP legislation that would impose restrictions on transgender rights. State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, a Democrat, introduced amendment after amendment to every bill on the Senate floor and took up all eight debate hours allowed by the rules each day.

Two years ago, Texas Democrats temporarily stalled passage of new voting restrictions for weeks by breaking quorum and going on a 38-day walkout. They had quietly walked out of the House chamber one by one while facing the potential of Republicans calling the question for a decisive vote before a midnight deadline to pass the bill.

‘NUCLEAR OPTION’

Texas state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who helped spearhead the Democrats’ walkout in 2021, described calling the question as a “nuclear option” and criticized it an offensive tactic to stop debate.

On Friday, he called the expulsions in Tennessee a warning for lawmakers in minority parties to keep their guard up. He said he was especially mindful of how state legislators act at a time when there is gridlock in Washington and the Supreme Court is throwing contentious issues back to the states to decide.

“If you can willy-nilly silence voices by changing rules, then I think that is a significant assault on our democracy,” Fischer said.

___

Weber reported from Austin, Texas.

National News

FILE - Rohit Chopra, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, speaks as President Joe ...

Associated Press

US agency says apps that let workers access paychecks before payday are providing loans

NEW YORK (AP) — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Thursday that apps that allow workers to access their paychecks in advance, often for a fee, are providing loans and therefore subject to the Truth in Lending Act. If enacted, the proposed rule would provide clarity to a fast-growing industry known as Earned Wage Access, […]

8 minutes ago

Botanist Florencia Peredo Ovalle works in her greenhouse in Gardnerville, Nevada, Tuesday, May 21, ...

Associated Press

Green agendas clash in Nevada as company grows rare plant to help it survive effects of a mine

GARDNERVILLE, Nev. (AP) — A botanist gently strokes the pollen of endangered wildflowers with a paintbrush as she tries to reenact nature inside a small greenhouse in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada. It’s part of a lithium mining company’s grand experiment intended to help keep an extremely rare desert plant from going extinct in […]

55 minutes ago

Sergio Solano, an immigrant from Mexico, gets ready for his next delivery, June 21, 2024, in New Yo...

Associated Press

Newly arrived migrants encounter hazards of food delivery on the streets of NYC: robbers

NEW YORK CITY (AP) — Brad Song thought he was about to get his e-bike stolen a second time in a less than a month after delivering an order for Chinese food app Fantuan Delivery. Seven strangers surrounded the Chinese immigrant and knocked him off the scooter. He was rescued when a nearby motorist revved […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Illinois sheriff’s deputy charged with murder in fatal shooting of woman who called 911

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — An Illinois sheriff’s deputy has been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a woman insider her home. Sonya Massey was killed after Sangamon County deputies responded to her 911 call early on July 6, State’s Attorney John Milhiser said. A statement from Milhiser doesn’t describe the circumstances that preceded […]

1 hour ago

FILE - This undated file photo shows members of the Grateful Dead band, from left to right, Mickey ...

Associated Press

The Grateful Dead and Francis Ford Coppola are among the newest Kennedy Center Honors recipients

WASHINGTON (AP) — An iconoclastic filmmaking legend and one of the world’s most enduring musical acts headline this year’s crop of Kennedy Center Honors recipients. Director Francis Ford Coppola and the Grateful Dead will be honored for lifetime achievement in the arts, along with jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, blues legend Bonnie Raitt and the legendary […]

2 hours ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump talks to Sen. Marco Rubio during th...

Associated Press

2024 Election Latest: Trump to speak at RNC as convention enters fourth day, Biden has COVID-19

The Republican National Convention culminates Thursday with former President Donald Trump expected to accept the party’s presidential nomination, achieving a comeback four years in the making and anticipated even more in the past week in light of Saturday’s assassination attempt. He is expected to accept his third consecutive party nod in prime time before thousands […]

2 hours ago

How Tennessee GOP’s majority used power to expel Democrats