Tennessee House 'defined by partisan vitriol, pique, scandal, racism and Olympic-level pettiness for years': beat reporter
The decision by Republican lawmakers to expel two Black Democratic House members this week should come as no surprise according to a reporter who has worked the government beat in the state for years.
According to Politico correspondent Natalie Allison, the expulsion of Reps. Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson for joining protesters demanding action on gun violence, was the inevitable result of years of growing rightwing extremist control of the chamber.
As Allison wrote, "For those who have closely watched the chamber in recent years, the events were of little surprise. The place has been defined by partisan vitriol, pique, scandal, racism and Olympic-level pettiness for years."
With Jones and Pearson ousted, while white Representative Gloria Johnson (D) barely hung onto her seat despite joining her Democratic colleagues in their protest, Allison explained that Democrats have been sidelined while Republicans accused of heinous actions and racist comments have not only survived but have thrived.
"When I covered the Tennessee Capitol from 2018 to 2021, the family-values espousing Republican House speaker had to explain why his text message trail included discussions of pole-dancing women and his chief of staff’s sexual encounters in the bathroom of a hot chicken restaurant," she wrote before adding, "After a Republican lawmaker was accused of sexually assaulting 15- and 16-year-old girls he had taught and coached, he was made chairman of the House education committee."
According to her report, one Republican lawmaker, former Rep. Eddie Mannis, bowed out from running for re-election, saying of his GOP colleagues that too many of them "are just mean and vindictive" and are obsessed with "winning at all costs."
"The state party knows that it’s drifting. Some openly and proudly admit it. It’s also evidenced by Sen. Bob Corker’s decision not to seek reelection in 2018, and Gov. Bill Haslam’s opting out of running for Alexander’s open seat in 2020. Both Corker and Haslam know they were unlikely to have survived a primary in the state, had they stayed true to their own brands of more moderate conservatism," she recalled. "Corker’s Senate seat ended up going to Marsha Blackburn, a Trump loyalist, and Bill Hagerty, now in Alexander’s seat, handily won the GOP primary after securing his own endorsement from Trump."
She then lamented, "When I departed Tennessee less than two years ago to cover national politics — leaving after a whirlwind of a few years at the state Capitol and the ouster of a House speaker — I wondered if the legislative news there would settle down. Maybe things will become boring back in Tennessee, I thought. I got my answer pretty quickly."
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