The Tennessee special session on public safety ended in chaos on Tuesday. A physical conflict appeared to break out between House Speaker Cameron Sexton and state Rep. Justin J. Pearson while citizens in the gallery chanted for Republicans to be voted out of office. After Monday saw Republicans vote to silence Rep. Justin Jones before he could call for a vote of no confidence in the speaker, the Republican-controlled legislature forced through an adjournment of the House sine die on Tuesday. The General Assembly isn’t currently scheduled to reconvene until January 2024.
As Sexton exited the chamber, Jones and Pearson stood on opposite sides of him, holding small protest signs. Sexton tried to slip past a throng of lawmakers and appeared to drop his shoulder into Pearson. Multiple men then moved between Pearson and Sexton as the two lawmakers got into a shouting match, with the speaker pointing his finger threateningly at Pearson. WKRN News 2 provided video of the disorder.
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Reporter Kelsey Beyeler of Nashville Scene posted another, closer angle of the physical interaction between Sexton and Pearson.
Sexton denied that it was intentional, claiming that he was accidentally pushed forward by his security.
State Rep. Gloria Johnson tweeted that from what she saw, Pearson “could file charges for that assault the Speaker committed as well as [Rep.] Jason Zachary.” (Zachary is the man in glasses who can be seen using his elbow to press against Pearson while Sexton is pointing at Pearson.)
Tennessee’s Republican Party, in their impotence at passing popular gun safety laws, has revealed itself as an authoritarian mess of special interests. Democratic representatives like Jones, Pearson, and Johnson have helped in exposing Sexton and others to the public for their anti-democratic rule of law. And shortly after the altercation between Sexton and Pearson, Jones stepped up to the speaker’s podium, grabbed the gavel, and banged it. “This House is out of order,” he yelled.
Outside the chambers, mothers whose children attended the Covenant School during its mass shooting this past March, and many of whom are Republicans, were in tears. A mother named Mary Joyce explained why so many people were overcome with emotion:
Today, we will go home and we'll look at our children in the eyes — many of whom were sheltered from gunfire that tragic day on March 27. They will ask what our leaders have done over the past week and a half to protect them. As a mother, I'm going to have to look at my nine year-old in the eye and tell her: nothing.
Jones spoke to the Covenant mothers, their supporters, and gathered reporters, saying that the GOP’s plan is to hope people forget about commonsense gun legislation when they reconvene in January. In a video provided by @TheTNHoller, Jones said:
“The speaker chose to end session because he felt the public pressure. And what he's hoping is that you don't come back in January. What he does not realize is he's giving us more time to organize even more people, to hold him accountable, and to push against this extremist session that we saw. This was not a session about public safety.
This was a session about silencing dissent, about criminalizing children, and abuse of power. And so we are appreciative of all people who came. You deserve an apology. Particularly, the Covenant families deserve an apology from this House, because what happened in there was a sham. And rather than face you, the speaker ran back to his office and locked the door.
But no matter if he goes to hide in his office or comes out here to see the people, we know that his time is up. We know that his time as speaker is up. And that he was so afraid of a vote of no confidence that he wouldn't even let any other business be heard. But we don't need a vote from them because the people can take a no-confidence vote on the speaker. Raise your hand if you want to vote no confidence in Speaker Cameron Sexton?
[The crowd of people gathered in the rotunda responded loudly and affirmatively.]
I believe it passes overwhelmingly. Thank you all for being here. Power to you all. We’ll keep showing up. This is your house. This does not look like the people's house right now, but we're going to make this the people's house. Cameron Sexton's on the wrong side of history, and we know that we are on the right side of history. Power to the people!”
Editor’s note: The headline and story have been updated to clarify that the video appears to show Sexton shoving Pearson, and to include a denial from Sexton.
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