Here's What Didn't Get Tennessee Lawmakers Fired

GOP leaders have blocked attempts to punish their members
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 8, 2023 1:35 PM CDT
These Actions Did Not Get Tennessee Legislators Expelled
Rep. Justin Pearson waves to his supporters in the gallery as he delivers his final remarks on the floor of the House chamber Thursday in Nashville.   (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

The Tennessee House chamber where Republicans expressed outrage this week at a breach in decorum was filled daily, for years, by the sound of their colleague ringing a cowbell to mask the lack of applause. A lawmaker's office chair was urinated on by a fellow Republican, a reporter who used to cover the GOP-controlled House writes in Politico. The quick expulsion of two Democrats on Thursday for supporting a protest was of a piece, Natalie Allison says. "The place has been defined by partisan vitriol, pique, scandal, racism and Olympic-level pettiness for years," she writes. Here are other actions committed by Republican House members in the past that did not lead party leaders to remove them:

  • Lynching suggestion: In a committee hearing in March about capital punishment, Rep. Paul Sherrell asked if he might offer an amendment to include "hanging by a tree" as a method of execution; the state has a history of lynching. An uproar followed, but Sherrell has not been reprimanded or censured.
  • Sexual assault allegations: Three women accused Rep. David Byrd of sexually assaulted them when they played on a basketball team he coached. They were minors at the time. Byrd denied the accusations, but a recording captured him apologizing to one of the women without specifically saying what he was sorry for, per WSMV. GOP leaders twice blocked attempts to remove Byrd, per the Washington Post. "You have to balance the will of the voters and overturning the will of the voters," said Speaker Cameron Sexton in 2019.
  • Historical revision: Rep. Justin Lafferty described the Three-Fifths Compromise as necessary to end slavery during a 2021 debate on the House floor. Historians were among those who objected to that interpretation.
  • Slurs: Republicans joked twice publicly in 2020 about Black people eating fried chicken. A lawmaker speaking about his bill on sanctuary cities used the term "wetback." The chief of staff for a former House speaker texted, "Black people are idiots." Other texts showed the speaker endorsing disparaging and sexual comments the aide made about women.
  • Mean tweets: An investigation in 2019 found that Rep. Rick Tillis was behind an anonymous Twitter account filled with gossip and criticism of lawmakers and staffers. It was his chair that eventually was soaked with urine.

Allison's piece can be found here. (More Tennessee stories.)

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