After voting to expel two Black Democratic lawmakers from Tennessee’s legislature, newly released audio of a meeting amongst Republican lawmakers appears to indicate tensions and infighting among members.
As a result of their participation in a demonstration on the House floor condemning gun violence in the wake of the shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville that left six people dead, Democratic Representatives Justin Jones (Nashville) and Justin Pearson (Memphis) were voted out of office last week in a historic vote.
Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) was also threatened with expulsion but managed to keep her seat by a single vote. Republicans had presented a united front to the country, but edited recordings published first by The Tennessee Holler revealed their fury about Johnson’s continued membership and over the allegations of bigotry.
House Majority Whip Johnny Garrett (R-Goodlettsville) was “taken aback” by Rep. Jody Barrett’s (R-Dickson) request to question Johnson in the hearing. Audio of Garrett saying, “As if that would have made a difference,” can be heard.
“We had the jury already. This obviously wasn’t a trial — but I knew every single one of your vote counts. I knew that we did not have to convince you all,” he continued. “When you came up to me with about two minutes left of Gloria’s final closing and said you didn’t want to do it, I was shocked.”
Barrett had earlier stated that he had decided against expelling Johnson due to “factual inaccuracies” in the resolution to do so. “I know what she did. I know that she did break the rules. I know that she deserved to be expelled, but we’ve got to do it right, and that wasn’t right,” Barrett said on the audio. “I went back to my desk. I sat there and had my internal debate on what to do.”
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“The bell rings, I am concerned that I am going to vote yes on a resolution I know is wrong,” he added. Republican lawmakers were heard on the recording saying that this line of thinking was inadequate.
“I don’t want to hear why there wasn’t preponderance of the evidence as an attorney — I need to know why you flipped your vote at the last minute,” Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) can be heard saying on the audio. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) was quoted as saying that lawmakers should “do what’s right” even if they didn’t agree with it.
“You’ve got to do what’s right — even if you think it might be wrong — you’ve got to do what’s right,” Cepicky said. “You’ve got to protect this freaking republic here in Tennessee, or you know what, let’s all go the hell home.”
After Zachary becomes angry at being labeled a “racist,” he can be heard shouting, “Democrats are not our friends” on the recording.
“I listened for the last three days to Democrats — Sam McKenzie, [Jesse] Chism, [Antonio] Parkinson — trash us as racists,” Zachary said. “I’ve never had anybody call me a racist and for the last three days all I’ve heard from them is how this is the most racist place — one of them even white supremacists.”
“We have to realize they are not our friends, they can smile and that doesn’t mean I can’t be polite to them but they are not our friends,” he continued. “They destroy the republic and the foundation of who we are or we preserve it. That is the reality of where we are right now and if the last three days have not proven that, then you need to find a new job.”
Leaked audio shows Tennessee GOP infighting over expulsion of Black lawmakers https://t.co/zxlu4c0wjW pic.twitter.com/azIoB6ghrK
— The Hill (@thehill) April 15, 2023
In response to the expulsion of the two Black members but not the white lawmaker, Democrats around the country have rallied behind the “Tennessee Three,” and Black leaders have pointed out the racial overtones of the incident.
Jones said he was once dubbed a “uppity Negro” by a member, and Johnson added that the only thing that set the new lawmakers apart from her was their skin color. It was decided by unanimous votes in both counties that Pearson and Jones should return to the House as interim representatives. They are both committed to contesting the upcoming special election.
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