Monthly Archives: April 2023

New TNJ edition alert: Lawmaker antics could torpedo chances for ’28 GOP convention

Protesters hold a rally outside the state Capitol on April 3, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Self-sabotage: Lawmaker antics could scare off GOP convention.
— Leaked audio reveals infighting among House Republicans after ouster votes.
— Lee backs gun restrictions as lawmakers eye quick adjournment.
— Legislative update: Third grad retention, airport authority fight, teacher dues, and Delta 8.

Also: Scott Cepicky’s war, mayoral campaign cash in Memphis and Nashville, state government main-stays Paul Degges and Janet Kleinfelter retire, and a temporary pie designation.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Leaked audio of House GOP meeting reveals anger at being ‘hung out to dry’ on ousters

Tennessee House Republicans were not happy about how last week’s ousters of Democratic lawmakers went down. Two black members, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, were expelled, while Gloria Johnson, who is white, escaped sanction by a single vote.

The Tennessee Holler has obtained audio of a closed-door GOP caucus meeting that even staffers were excluded from. The discussion involved much finger-pointing at members who did not follow through on promises to oust Johnson, including Reps. Jody Barrett of Dickson and Bryan Terry of Murfreesboro.

Have a listen here:

Lawmakers keep distance from Lee’s call for gun restrictions

Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) speaks on the Senate floor on March 6, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

When Gov. Bill Lee delivered his initial comments about the mass shooting at the Covenant School, he was flanked by nearly 40 lawmakers and much of his Cabinet. The governor stood alone when he announced his support for an order of protection law to prevent people who are a danger to themselves or others from having access to guns.

“I’m asking the General Assembly to bring forward an order of protection law. A new, strong order of protection law will provide the broader population cover, safety, from those who are a danger to themselves or the population,” Lee said.

“This is our moment to lead and to give the people of Tennessee what they deserve,” he said.

But Republican lawmakers have been keeping their distance from anything that might be construed as a “red flag” law. For example, here is a lengthy statement issued late Tuesday from Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), who usually carries the governor’s legislation:

I am committed to protecting Tennesseans’ constitutional rights, including the right to due process. I have always been and continue to be opposed to so-called “red flag laws” because they deprive citizens of their rights without due process. I do believe, however, that criminals and individuals experiencing a severe mental health crisis should not have access to firearms. Current Tennessee law prohibits those who have been involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment or adjudicated as mentally defective from owning, possessing, or purchasing firearms. We must ensure these laws are strongly enforced. Changes to the current law should not be made in haste nor come from a place of emotion. Depriving someone of a constitutional right is a serious matter and any proposal to create an emergency mental health order of protection must be carefully considered, narrowly tailored, and require rigorous due process. To my knowledge, no bill has been drafted. I am not willing to express support for or opposition to a bill that I have not seen.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) has said he would support “extreme risk” measures on guns, but stressed it was his personal position and not the one held by the Republican caucus.

Judges block implementation of law cutting Nashville council in half

The Nashville Metro Courthouse on March 13, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A three-judge panel has blocked the implementation of a new law cutting the size of the Metro Nashville Council in half. The panel is comprised of Nashville Chancellor Pat Moskal, Shelby County Circuit Judge Mary Wagner, and Athens Chancellor Jerri Bryant found the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their constitutional challenge of the measure. Wagner and Bryant are Republicans while Moskal is a Democrat.

Nashville made both practical and constitutional arguments for why the courts should block the bill widely considered to have been enacted in retribution for the liberal city’s refusal to host next year’s Republican presidential convention. According to the lawsuit, there isn’t enough time to draw new districts and prepare election machinery for the vote on the new seats to take place in August.

Wagner and Bryant found the constitution’s home rule protections don’t apply to the overall aim of the bill to set a 20-member cap on the the number of voting members in consolidated governments, but that the timetables for enacting the changes this year or next aren’t doable. Moskal in a partial dissent said the overall act should also be found unconstitutional.

AG statement on shooting at activist’s home

Here is a statement issued by state Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti about a shooting at the home of activist Justin Kanew, the founder of the liberal Tennessee Holler website.

Tennessee has suffered through an awful season. We have mourned the murder of six of our own in an incomprehensible attack at The Covenant School. We lost nine soldiers from Fort Campbell in a tragic helicopter crash. And over the weekend, intense storms killed over a dozen Tennesseans, while many more lost their homes.  

Though we’ve seen the worst of times recently, many among us have responded with their best. Many Tennesseans stepped up to comfort and support one another. They have walked alongside those in grief. They offered their time, talent, and treasure to support their neighbors. 

Unfortunately, some have chosen a different path.

Over the weekend, an unknown assailant fired into the home of a local political activist while his children were sleeping inside. I don’t know him personally, though I know I often disagree with him. Regardless of any differences of opinion, though, as a dad and as an attorney general I cannot tolerate this attack against him and his family. 

At the same time, our lawmakers are receiving graphic anonymous death threats. Our participatory democracy is being tested by these escalating acts of political violence. No Tennessean should have to worry about their safety, or the safety of their family, because of the opinions they express. No lawmaker should face injury or death for serving as an elected representative of the people. 

Disagreement is a good thing. Democracy depends on disagreement. Each of us has a right, guaranteed by the Constitution, to express our opinions. There are limits on how we express those opinions, and those limits are governed by the legislature, by the courts, and ultimately by the people. That system, the rule of law, is the foundation of our republic. Only by respecting the rule of law and the inherent value of human life can we flourish together despite many differences of opinion. 

We have been blessed with the freedom to disagree peacefully. Each and every one of us must work relentlessly to preserve that blessing so we can pass it along to the next generation. No matter how fierce a disagreement is, we need to step back from violence and let our constitutional system work.

Read the closing statements by the 3 Tennessee House members who faced expulsion

A protest on the House floor on March 30, 2023, led to ouster proceedings against three Democratic lawmakers. From left are Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, Justin Jones of Nashville, and Justin Pearson of Memphis.

Here are the closing statements delivered by Reps. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis), Justin Jones (D-Nashville), and Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) before the state House voted on expulsion resolutions last week. Pearson and Jones were ousted, while the Johnson was spared by a single vote.

Justin Pearson:

All glory and honor to God, who makes all things possible. Who takes the son of teenage parents, Kimberly Owens Pearson and Jason C. Pearson, and brings into an institution built by enslaved people’s hands. All glory and honor to God, who brings those who have been marginalized and excluded into this place and tells them that you still have a voice, that you still are somebody and that the movement for love and justice cannot be stopped. Because we’ve still got a heartbeat, because we’ve still got a movement for love that needs us. We’ve still got people who are calling on us to act and to do something, to all you who still believe that the best days for democracy are ahead. For all of you who still believe that our better days in Tennessee are ahead.

I want to tell you that I still believe with you. And how is it — that even now with this persecution on this holy week after my own brother Justin Jones, Representative Jones, gets expelled from the House — that we still have hope and faith and belief that the democracy of Tennessee, faith hope and the belief in the democracy of the United States of America? How is it that you still have hope, you descendant of enslaved people? How is it that you still have hope? Well, it’s because even from the bottom of slave ships. my people didn’t quit. Even in cotton fields and rice fields, my people didn’t quit. Even when they were whipped and chained and told they had no name, my people didn’t quit. Even when they incarcerated us, locked us up for a crack cocaine epidemic created by President Ronald Reagan to fund their war in South America, my people didn’t quit. Even when they defunded our schools, separated us and called us colored and white, even when they put us on lynching trees in the state of Tennessee, specifically in Shelby County, my people did quit.

Even now, as our own brothers and sisters lay to rest, because of the failure of people in positions of power to do something — because people are refusing to pass just laws to end the epidemic of gun violence in the state of Tennessee — my people have yet to quit. And so even now, amidst this vote, amidst this persecution, I remember the good news. Hallelujah, Jesus.

I remember that on Friday, the government decided that my savior Jesus, a man that was innocent of all crimes, except fighting for the poor, fighting for the marginalized, fighting for the LGBTQ community, fighting for those who are single mothers, fighting for those who are ostracized, fighting for those persons on the periphery, my Savior, my black Jesus. He was lynched by the government on Friday. And they thought that all hope had been lost. Outside it rained, and it’s thundering and everybody said everything was over. And it was some black women who stood at the cross. It was some black women who watched what the government did to that boy named Jesus.

They were witnesses, as you have been witnesses, to what is happening in the anti-democratic state of Tennessee. They were witnesses to what was going on. And I gotta tell you, it got quiet on Saturday. Yes, I tell you it was a sad day on Saturday. All hope seemed to be lost. Representatives were thrown out of the state House. Democracy seemed to be at its end. Seemed like the NRA and gun lobbyists might win. But there was good news for us. I don’t know how long this Saturday in the state of Tennessee might last.

But oh, we have good news, folks. We’ve gotten good news that Sunday always comes. Resurrection is a promise. And it is a prophecy. It’s a prophecy that came out of the cotton fields. It’s a prophecy that came out of the lynching tree. It’s a prophecy that still lives in each and every one of us in order to make the state of Tennessee the place that it ought to be. So I’ve still got hope. Because I know we are still here. And we will never quit.

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New TNJ edition alert: All eyes on Tennessee as House GOP throws out two Democrats after gun protest

Reps. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis), right, and Justin Jones (D-Nashville) attend a House floor session on April 6, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Republicans vote out Dems Jones and Pearson, balk at Johnson.

— A look back at notable past protest actions that didn’t result in ousters.

— Obituary: Mickey Barker, lone dissenter in landmark Tennessee abortion case.

Also: Former top GOP official had kids at school where fatal shooting took place, Scott Cepicky denounces Chris Todd, and moving the line between Shelby and Fayette counties.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Here is how lawmakers voted in ousting Jones and Pearson, keeping Johnson

Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) speaks during a House floor session on April 6, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here is how House members voted in their 72-25 decision to oust Rep Justin Jones (D-Nashville) from the chamber:

This is the 69-26 tally for ousting Democrat Justin Pearson of Memphis (image credit: Blaise Gainey of WPLN):

Here is the vote on the expulsion resolution for Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville). It fell one vote short of the 66 needed to pass.

Images from Thursday’s House floor session

Protesters hold up signs during a House floor session on April 6, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Protesters crammed in to the Capitol on Thursday as House Republicans were preparing to launch ouster proceedings against Democratic Reps. Justin Pearson of Memphis, Justin Jones of Nashville, and Gloria Johnson of Knoxville.

Here are some photos from the floor session.

Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) speaks during a House floor session on April 6, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Rep. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis) watches while Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) speaks during a House floor session on April 6, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Protesters hold up signs in the gallery during a House floor session on April 6, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Senate Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) listens while Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) speaks during a House floor session on April 6, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Reps. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis), right, and Justin Jones (D-Nashville) attend a House floor session on April 6, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) seeks recognition during a House floor session on April 6, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Activist Kanew says his home fired upon while family was sleeping

Liberal activist Justin Kanew, who has outraged Republican lawmakers by chasing them through hallways of the Capitol complex asking them pointed questions, says his home was fired upon over the weekend while his family was sleeping.

“This violence has no place in a civilized society and we are thankful no one was physically hurt,” Kanew said in a tweet.

Authorities have not yet determined a reason for the attack and the Williamson County Sherriff’s Office is investigating further, Kanew said.

Kanew has had verbal run-ins with Gov. Bill Lee and numerous lawmakers in both chambers. Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) is among those who have lashed out at Kanew, recently calling him a “jackass” and a “loser.”

Kanew has been a vocal critic of legislative policies loosening gun laws, especially after the last week’s fatal shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville.

Kanew’s Tennessee Holler was first to report Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) had posted encouraging comments and emojis on the social media page of a scantily-clad 20-year-old gay man from Knoxville.


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