A week after Tennessee Republicans expelled two Democrats from the state House for a breach of decorum, wealthy Republicans from around the country will arrive in Tennessee for a Republican National Committee donor retreat. It’s simultaneously a bad look for the party and completely fitting. Republicans jetting in for that should be faced with some tough questions about what’s going on in Tennessee, where the House Republicans who expelled Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson have a recent history of overlooking unsavory behavior by some of their own—and are reportedly even now continuing to overlook their own House speaker’s far graver violation than a breach of decorum.
The Republican donor event will be headlined by Donald Trump and also feature Mike Pence, four senators, three governors, and six House members. There is serious cash on the line, in other words. “Privately, Republicans acknowledged to Playbook the inconvenience of visiting a state where local party leaders are mired in ugly headlines and accusations of racism,” Politico reports. Oh, an inconvenience. How awkward and uncomfortable for them, the poor dears. “Their presence, they know, will likely invite questions about whether national Republicans condone the decisions of their Volunteer State brethren—and reporters are likely to hear wildly different answers depending on which GOP officials they ask.”
How about asking all of them, on the record? None of this “privately, they acknowledge” business. Either they support members of their party expelling two young Black men from the state House for a peaceful protest while sparing the white woman who participated in the same protest, or they don’t.
RELATED STORY: Tennessee Republicans claim they were 'obliged' to expel Democrats over peaceful protest
While reporters are asking Republicans questions about that, they could add questions about what appears to be a far more serious violation by the Republican Tennessee House speaker, Cameron Sexton. Popular Information’s Judd Legum reports that Sexton doesn't seem to live in the district he represents. While members of the U.S. House are not required to live in their districts (though it usually helps), it’s different in the Tennessee House: There, the state constitution specifies, “Each district shall be represented by a qualified voter of that district.”
But while Sexton has maintained a condo in a retirement community there since selling a larger house in 2020, Legum uncovered lots of evidence that he really lives more than 100 miles away, outside Nashville, in a district represented by a Democrat. Evidence like Sexton’s child attending a school outside Nashville. A neighbor told Popular Information, “He says he lives here, but he's not here.” Sexton shows up some weekends and occasionally over summer school vacation, even though the legislature is only in session from January to April.
In addition to apparently violating the state constitution, Sexton appears to be fleecing the taxpayers of the state. During the legislative session, he claims a higher per diem rate available only to members representing districts more than 100 miles from Nashville to account for their hotel stays. Sexton represents such a district, but since he seems to live right in the Nashville area, he shouldn’t need the per diem to cover a hotel room. He also claims mileage expenses for his supposed travel between his district and the Capitol. Between the 2022 legislative session and expenses Sexton claimed for other travel back and forth during the rest of the year, he claimed $35,369 in expenses, while the Democrat who represents the district he appears to actually live in claimed less than $5,000.
It’s open to debate whether it’s worse to expel two members of the opposing party for “decorum” because they staged a peaceful protest or to lie about where you live and claim a per diem as if you lived in the place you claim to live rather than the place you really live. But the latter is firmly against the rules as written. Don’t look for Tennessee Republicans to take action against one of their own, though. They’ve made clear that’s not how they operate.
On Monday, the Nashville Metro Council will vote on reinstating Jones to the seat he was expelled from; if two council members vote against it, Jones will face a four-week waiting period. A vote to reinstate Pearson to his Memphis seat is expected Wednesday. In the meantime, around 140,000 people in heavily Black areas of Tennessee are without representation in the state House.
Radley Balko has the receipts on years of Tennessee Republican bigotry and abuses of power
Progressives scored a monumental victory in Wisconsin Tuesday night when Janet Protasiewicz flipped a pivotal seat on the state Supreme Court, and we've got plenty to say about it on this week's episode of The Downballot. Not only are the electoral implications deeply worrisome for Republicans, the court's new liberal majority has the chance to revive democracy in the Badger State by restoring abortion rights and striking down gerrymandered GOP maps. It truly is a new day—and one we've long awaited—in Wisconsin.
We're also delving into the fascinating politics of Alaska with our guest this week, former state Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. Jonathan recounts his unlikely journey to the state House after winning a huge upset while still in college before explaining how Democrats, independents, and even a few Republicans forged a remarkable cross-partisan governing coalition. We also get an on-the-ground view of what Mary Peltola's stunning special election victory last year looked like to Alaska Democrats.