The funny thing is, Republican politics in Tennessee was already a mess. As regular readers know, it was early last month when Gov. Bill Lee signed the nation’s first statewide restrictions on drag performances, despite a photograph emerging showing the GOP governor — while he was in high school — wearing a wig, a pearl necklace, and a short-skirted cheerleader’s uniform intended for a girl.
About a week later, Lee’s lieutenant governor, Republican Randy McNally, was discovered to be commenting rather frequently on Instagram, responding to shirtless photos of a young gay man.
It was the week after that when another Tennessee Republican, Rep. Andy Ogles, already struggling with allegations that he repeatedly lied about his professional and academic background, was accused of raising money for a “burial garden” for families of stillborn babies, but then failing to actually spend the money.
It was against this backdrop that GOP state lawmakers in Tennessee thought it’d be a good idea to hold expulsion votes against three of their Democratic colleagues, ultimately kicking out two Black legislators who dared to put aside decorum rules to plead with state House Republicans to address gun violence. The move ended up backfiring on the GOP officials who picked the fight.
And while that was true, conditions had not yet reached rock bottom.
Soon after the Politico report ran, the public learned that Republican state Rep. Paul Sherrell was no longer a member of the Tennessee House’s Justice Committee — because he’d called for “hanging on a tree” as a possible method of capital punishment.
Less than a week later, the Associated Press reported:
A state lawmaker in Tennessee resigned suddenly for an ethics violation that became public Thursday, two weeks after he joined fellow Republicans in expelling two Black Democratic legislators for protesting in support of gun control on the state House floor. Rep. Scotty Campbell, vice chair of the House Republican Caucus, violated the Legislature’s workplace discrimination and harassment policy.
Though the ethics panel’s findings did not provide the public with specific details, the AP report added that Campbell’s resignation “came hours after a Nashville TV station confronted him about sexual harassment allegations involving legislative interns.”
“I had consensual, adult conversations with two adults off property," Campbell told WTVF-TV on Thursday, adding: “If I choose to talk to any intern in the future, it will be recorded."
One day after his resignation, as a New York Times report explained, the Republican-led legislature “cut short the year’s legislative session and punted on any measure dealing explicitly with guns, capping a whirlwind three months of lawmaking that underscored the power of the far-right flank of the Republican Party in Tennessee.”
In the process, the GOP majority ignored the pleas of “hundreds of students, parents and teachers” who “marched to the Tennessee State Capitol, day after day, demanding a ban on assault weapons and action on gun control.”
The ignominious end of the legislative session does not, however, necessarily mean that the scrutiny will disappear. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and several of his Senate Democratic colleagues last week urged the Justice Department to investigate the recent expulsions of two members of the Tennessee Three to determine whether Republicans violated civil rights laws.
Watch this space.