Tennessee, we’ve got a lot to answer for

Betty BeanKnox Scene

If we had any sense, we’d be embarrassed.

That’s rhetorical, of course. The assortment of bigots, self-dealers and Bible-bangers we send to Nashville to represent us in the House of Representatives is proof positive that we don’t, and we aren’t and we don’t give a damn.

Take this last little stretch of the spring legislative session in Nashville, please.

Our Republican House legislators hold a super-majority, which means they can do as they please. So, unfazed by the seismic changes happening around them, they kicked off the action by quashing yet another discussion of removing the bust of Confederate general/slave trader/war criminal/KKK Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest from his niche in the state capitol. And don’t start in about preserving history: the bust has only been there since 1978 and was the pet project of one powerful old-timey Democrat who thought there needed to be another Civil War image in the marble halls to offset that of Union Admiral David “Damn the torpedoes” Farragut.

The low point of this chapter of the Forrest fight was a wildly incoherent speech by Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, who led the charge by defending the institution of slavery and linking the statue’s removal to abortion. As per usual, it’s challenging to try to follow his logic, but he did remind us that slavery used to be legal and cautioned us that we don’t know who might end up being enslaved if the laws change again. Oddly, he didn’t sound like he thought that was an entirely bad thing.

On a personal note, it doesn’t help my disposition any that Sexton sometimes invokes the name of my family to justify his moronic, bigoted pronouncements. I can tell him with high confidence that the Bean men who walked all the way to Cumberland Gap to join the Union Army would find his remarks objectionable. Borrowing a phrase from another Bean, somebody’s ass would probably get whupped, and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a Bean’s.

And don’t forget Mike Carter, R-Chattanooga, who said at a committee meeting when he tried to turn the mic over to Joe Towns Jr., D-Memphis, and discovered that Towns, who is black, had momentarily left the room: “He’s getting the secret formula to Kentucky Fried Chicken.” Carter later apologized; Towns graciously accepted, but clearly has run out of patience with the casual racism of his Republican colleagues.

“We’re sick of it,” Towns told the Tennessean. “We’re not going to do the watermelon jokes. We’re not going to do the damn fried chicken jokes.”

Ashante Posey

There’s more to the GOP’s spring gaffe-athon. Tuesday night, House Majority Leader William Lamberth, who represents the Nashville suburb of Portland, launched an attack on a murdered teenager, agitating the frayed tempers of the crowd that was already there protesting the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue.

Harold Love Jr., D-Nashville, had filed a memorial resolution to honor Ashanti “Ace” Posey, 17, a talented, outgoing high school basketball star who’d been awarded a scholarship to play at Western Kentucky University before she was shot to death behind the wheel of her car in a city intersection this April. Police “sources” said she had just sold a small amount of marijuana, but presented no proof or explanation. Posey was a lesbian and a vocal supporter of LGBT rights. Memorial resolutions are very common and usually pass without comment. The Senate had already passed it without opposition.

Watch the House debate here.

Things got tense in the House when Lamberth rose to speak:

“Due to the behavior and I would say choices that she was involved with at the time, I cannot in good conscience vote in favor of this. …”

Thirty-nine members reported present, not voting, and the resolution failed 45-1. The chamber erupted in anger. The Speaker admonished the members not to cuss (didn’t work). Three onlookers were arrested and House members shouted one another down from opposite sides of the aisle. Who knows what will happen next?

Probably more of the same. It’s not like we’re going to suddenly morph into discerning voters who study the issues and analyze our priorities. We have been making lousy ballot box choices for a long time, and we’ve got the legislature we deserve.

And one-party rule sucks. It sucked when the Democrats were in power, and it sucks even worse now that Republicans control both houses and don’t have a strong governor to keep them in line. Ned McWherter wouldn’t put up with this mess.

Betty Bean is a veteran reporter for Knox and Sevier counties.

House vote (Knox representatives in bold)

Representatives voting aye were: Baum, Beck, Bricken, Byrd, Carr, Chism, Clemmons, Coley, Curcio, Dixie, Dunn, Eldridge, Faison, Farmer, Freeman, Hakeem, Hardaway, Haston, Hazlewood, Helton, Hicks, Hodges, Jernigan, Johnson G, Lamar, Love, Lynn, Miller, Mitchell, Parkinson, Powell, Powers, Ramsey, Reedy, Shaw, Sparks, Staples, Stewart, Thompson, Towns, Travis, Vaughan, Whitson, Windle, Mr. Speaker Sexton C — 45.
Representatives voting no were: Hall — 1.
Representatives present and not voting were: Boyd, Casada, Cepicky, Cochran, Crawford, Daniel, Gant, Garrett, Griffey, Halford, Hawk, Hill M, Holsclaw, Holt, Hulsey, Hurt, Johnson C, Keisling, Kumar, Lafferty, Lamberth, Leatherwood, Littleton, Marsh, Moody, Moon, Ragan, Rudd, Rudder, Russell, Sexton J, Sherrell, Smith, Todd, White, Williams, Wright, Zachary — 39.

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