Competition for the title of worst state legislature in the country is fierce, but the Republicans who control the Tennessee House have been making their case this week, expelling two young Black members over a peaceful protest on the House floor and falling just short of expelling an older white woman who joined in. The expulsions follow the passage of the state’s gross, headline-grabbing anti-drag law and have also drawn attention to how Tennessee Republicans have recently attacked local control of government in Nashville after the Metro Council rejected being the host city for the Republican National Convention. But Radley Balko makes the case that Tennessee Republicans have been in the fight to be The Absolute Worst for a while now.
“The Tennessee legislature responds to the Tyre Nichols murder by . . . overriding police accountability measures passed by voters, stripping civilian review boards of their power, and making it more difficult to investigate abuse and excessive force,” Balko kicked off his Twitter thread on the Tennessee legislature. That’s very much in line with the approach to democracy and local control shown in the Nashville RNC situation. But it’s not the only way Tennessee Republicans have distinguished themselves, and he has receipts.
RELATED STORY: Tennessee Republicans claim they were 'obliged' to expel Democrats over peaceful protest
“Our legislature honored Candace Owen (shortly after she praised Hitler) for her ‘criticism of creeping socialism and leftist political tyranny,’” Balko tweeted, “but refused to honor Renata Soto because she worked with groups who help undocumented immigrants.”
Tennessee Republicans passed a resolution congratulating Ben Shapiro for moving his company to the state, but blocked a resolution honoring a murdered 17-year-old because, in addition to being a basketball player who founded an LGBTQ student group and worked two jobs, she was rumored to have been involved in a “small marijuana sale.”
Speaking of basketball, one of the representatives Tennessee Republicans haven’t expelled in recent years was a fellow Republican accused of having sexually assaulted three teenage girls decades earlier while he was their basketball coach. Rep. David Byrd ultimately didn’t seek reelection after a furor that included Rep. Gloria Johnson, the lawmaker who was almost expelled for a decorum violation on Thursday, filing an expulsion resolution.
Another Republican who got to leave by not seeking reelection rather than by being expelled was former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada. Casada resigned as speaker after a scandal involving his chief of staff using cocaine in the statehouse, sending racist texts to people, including Casada, and doctoring an email to try to frame a student activist for violating a no-contact order. The student activist in question was Justin Jones, one of the Democrats expelled on Thursday, and the no-contact order came after Jones was accused of throwing a cup of coffee into an elevator Casada was in. But wait, Casada’s story isn’t over! He and the same chief of staff were indicted for fraud, theft, and bribery in 2022, after he had resigned as speaker but while he was still in the legislature. He didn’t run for reelection, but did serve out his term.
Yet another Tennessee Republican was not expelled after it came to light that he had prescribed opioids for family members, including his second cousin/lover.
These are some high-quality folks representing the Republican Party in the Tennessee legislature.
Their track record of appalling actions goes back a ways, too. In 2013, two Republican lawmakers reportedly freaked out that a renovation to the Capitol building might have added a footwashing sink for Muslims to one bathroom. In reality, it was a mop sink.
Tennessee Republicans have been largely flying under the radar, drawing less attention than their fellow Republican legislators in other states and in Congress. But it turns out they’ve been right there all along.
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.