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Tennessee Legislature Expels "Uppity Negro(es)"...

On Wednesday, we noted that three Democrats in the Tennessee state House had the temerity to protest gun violence, and that their angry Republican colleagues were considering expulsion as their punishment. Those votes were held yesterday, and two of the three protesting Democrats were indeed tossed out of the state House.

The Republicans responsible for the expulsions grossly overstepped their bounds. There is simply no argument to the contrary. Since the current Tennessee constitution took effect 157 years ago, there had been a grand total of two expulsions before yesterday, one for accepting bribes and one for sexual harassment. So, the legislature doubled the total in one fell swoop. This was for behavior that certainly does not appear to rise to level of "requiring expulsion." And even if it does, the normal process for that sort of thing was short circuited. By the rules of the Tennessee House, the matter should first have been referred to the state House Ethics Committee. Instead, the Republicans did not pass Go, did not collect $200, and went straight to a vote to expel. And making things look extra bad is the fact that the white female legislator kept her seat and the two Black men were expelled. Justin Jones, one of those two men, observed that he was basically kicked out for being an "uppity Negro." Given the facts on the ground, it's hard to dispute that.

So, what happens next? The state Constitution requires the county governments for the two Representatives' home districts to pick replacements. Then, those governments are entitled to call a special election. The wording of the relevant passages (see Section 15, on page 8) is fairly vague, and so it's not entirely clear whether the two men can be appointed to replace themselves. Or, failing that, if each of them can be appointed to replace the other. It is certainly the case that they can run in the special election, and in the next regular election. So, there's every chance they'll be back on the job eventually, one way or another.

Beyond that, will the Republican Party pay a price for their anti-democratic (and anti-Democratic) actions? On one hand, Tennessee is pretty red and is pretty gerrymandered. So, most or all of the Republican members who voted to expel yesterday are likely safe, no matter what they do. Indeed, sticking it to two outspoken Black men may help them grow their support. That said, we could see this behavior playing a role in elections for statewide office, or even in next year's national elections. The more high-profile, fascist-adjacent things that Republicans do, the easier it is to paint them as a party of undemocratic extremists who cannot be trusted with power.

For what it's worth, the Tennessee legislature was condemned by political leaders across the country, including Joe Biden. There was also a mass demonstration outside the state House yesterday, and the votes to expel were met with thunderous boos (and chants of "Fu** you, fascists!"). It's not easy for a state legislature to trigger that kind of blowback, but Tennessee Republicans pulled it off. Further, one of the leaders of yesterday's maneuvering, state Rep. Jeremy Faison (R), the chair of the state House Republican Caucus, appeared on CNN yesterday, and was peppered with questions asking him to explain why this was necessary and apropos. He couldn't answer them, and eventually stormed off mid-interview. You would think he would expect such questions, and would be have answers ready, but apparently he didn't. Maybe that means there are no good answers.

And that is today's biggest "bad behavior by Republicans" item. But it's not the only one, we're afraid. Keep reading. (Z)

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