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The real reason two Black Tennessee lawmakers were expelled

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Dr. Rashad Richey

National TV Political Analyst, Talk Radio Host, Univ. Prof.

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After the school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, three members of the Tennessee state legislature led a protest against gun violence on March 30 that halted legislative proceedings. Two of those members, both Black, were expelled by GOP lawmakers for breaking rules while the third, a white female who broke those same rules, was not expelled. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, the two Black representatives, have both been reinstated but many decried the episode as racially motivated.

Straight Arrow News contributor Rashad Richey argues that this is not just an attack on Black lawmakers but on democracy itself, as it disenfranchises the people who voted for them.

What they did is disenfranchise the 78,000 people who voted for them in each district. You cannot tell this story without the massive elephant in the room. Two young Black male lawmakers, they lose their jobs. The white female lawmaker who engaged in the very same activity kept hers. Both have been reinstated. This is a massive waste of time. It is a waste of taxpayer money, because now that they are reinstated by their local jurisdiction — because they were expelled — they have to run for election to fill their own term. That is money the local jurisdiction has to pay. So here’s the thing.

Democracy is about conflict, political debate; you wrestle with these ideas. You are a passionate proclaimer of what you believe. We are sinking fast when we’re okay with things like this happening. 

This is not simply an attack on Black lawmakers, or the majority African American districts who elected them. Not simply an attack on them alone. It’s an attack on you. It’s an attack on me. You see, democracy is fundamental to the operation of our country. It should be sacred. You see, there’s nothing really sacred about these political jobs. There’s nothing sacred about political positions. There is something sacred about the vote. There’s something very sacred about an actual democracy where people, everyday people like you and me, we get to make decisions as to who governs us. 

Now let’s talk about the reality of what they did. They decided to speak up, stand with young people in that state who were speaking up that day and they disrupted normative business operations for that chamber. That is all. To be as heavy-handed as to say they can no longer represent the constituents who elected them was too much.

I think this is going to backfire on Republicans. It has created a spark, especially in young communities throughout the country. The unfairness is evident. Even some conservatives have now stepped outside of their tribalism and they have criticized the actions of Tennessee lawmakers, who are Republicans, who did this.

You see, we should all agree that democracy should not be touched. And what these individuals did, maybe there’s a different path for, I don’t know — punishment, sanction them. You can write a resolution condemning the action, but to expel them, well, it was heavy-handed. And that kind of heavy-handedness typically has a response. You are seeing that response now.

Okay, let me talk about the massive assault on democracy in the United States of America. Now, you don’t have to agree with the politics of a particular person or ideology of a political party, but you should agree, if you are in this country, you should agree that all of our voices are important, even when those voices are contrary to your political belief. 

Three Democrats in Tennessee, decided to protest the inaction of the Tennessee State Legislature as it relates to gun violence in their state. So what did they do? They violated a policy and office policy. And for that, two of those three Democrats were expelled. Well, they have both been reinstated. So let’s go down the list here. 

So you have state Representative, Justin Pearson — he has now been reinstated by a vote from Shelby County. You also have Justin Jones reinstated from a similar vote in his jurisdiction locally. Representative Gloria Johnson, the white female, who also broke the same policies, violated the same rule, well, she survived and was not expelled. You see, this was not a suspension, this was a firing. They said you can no longer work here. They simply — I’m talking about Republicans — they simply did not disenfranchise those lawmakers. 

What they did is disenfranchise the 78,000 people who voted for them in each district. You cannot tell this story without the massive elephant in the room. Two young Black male lawmakers, they lose their jobs. The white female lawmaker who engaged in the very same activity kept hers. Both have been reinstated. This is a massive waste of time. It is a waste of taxpayer money, because now that they are reinstated by their local jurisdiction — because they were expelled — they have to run for election to fill their own term. That is money the local jurisdiction has to pay. So here’s the thing. Democracy is about conflict, political debate, you wrestle with these ideas. You are a passionate proclaimer of what you believe. We are sinking fast when we’re okay with things like this happening. 

This is not simply an attack on Black lawmakers, or the majority African American district who elected them. Not simply an attack on them alone. It’s an attack on you. It’s an attack on me. You see, democracy is fundamental to the operation of our country. It should be sacred. You see, there’s nothing really sacred about these political jobs. There’s nothing sacred about political positions. There is something sacred about the vote. There’s something very sacred about an actual democracy where people, everyday people like you and me, we get to make decisions as to who governs us. 

Now let’s talk about the reality of what they did. They decided to speak up, stand with young people in that state who were speaking up that day. And they disrupted normative business operations for that chamber. That is all. To be as heavy handed as to say they can no longer represent the constituents who elected them was too much. I think this is going to backfire on Republicans. It has created a spark, especially in young communities throughout the country. The unfairness is evident. Even some conservatives have now stepped outside of their tribalism and they have criticized the actions of Tennessee lawmakers, who are Republicans, who did this. You see we should all agree that democracy should not be touched. And what these individuals did, maybe there’s a different path for, I don’t know, punishment. Sanction them. You can write a resolution condemning the action, but to expel them, well, it was heavy-handed. And that kind of heavy-handedness typically has a response. You are seeing that response now.

 

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