Gerrymandering And The Tennessee Three

I’ve repeatedly inveighed against gerrymandering on this blog. (Anyone who wants to revisit the multiple ills that flow from that nefarious practice need only put “gerrymandering” into the search box and re-read those periodic rants.) I wouldn’t test the patience of my regular readers by returning to the subject, but for the vivid and shocking example provided by lawmakers in Tennessee.

The bare-bone facts are these: Three members of the Tennessee legislature joined an estimated thousand protesters who had marched to the statehouse in the wake of that state’s school shooting, demanding gun reform. According to several reports, they had bullhorns, and disrupted the order of the assembly. The protest itself was described by the media as peaceful–giving the lie to the hysterical Republican lawmakers who compared it to the January 6th insurrection.

Tennessee has a Republican supermajority–courtesy of gerrymandering–and that supermajority responded by voting to eject two of the three–the Black ones.

The three lawmakers did violate House rules, and a reprimand of some sort would have been appropriate. They could have been censured, or removed from committee assignments. But as the Washington Post noted

Republicans charged them with breaking House rules of conduct, which they don’t deny. But the protests, while raucous, were peaceful, and according to the Tennessean, no lawmaker has ever been expelled for breaching decorum rules….

All of this mirrors a larger story. Red states are sinking deeper into virulent far-right culture-warring — banning books, limiting classroom discussion of race and gender and prohibiting gender-affirming care for transgender youth. GOP legislatures passing these things were of course legitimately elected by majorities, though in some cases gerrymanders increase their power.

I would amend that last sentence to read “in most cases, gerrymanders increase their power.”

Those legislatures are also finding onerous ways to use power to tamp down on the unexpectedly ferocious dissent their culture war has unleashed among numerical minorities, largely concentrated in cities and suburbs inside red states. As analyst Ron Brownstein argues, this often pits an overwhelmingly White, older, rural and small-town Republican coalition against an increasingly diverse, younger and more urban coalition.

“These Republican legislatures are stacking sandbags against a rising tide,” Brownstein told CNN. Call it the GOP retreat into Fortress MAGA.

As the article notes, Republican-dominated state legislatures are pushing “preemption” laws that restrict cities and counties from making their own policy choices. It listed examples from DeSantis’ Florida, and from Georgia (and could easily have found similar ones from Indiana)

Yet this retreat into Fortress MAGA faces a problem: Whenever state-level Republicans undertake another reactionary lurch, it often goes national in a big way. Attention has poured down on everything from insanely broad book bans to shockingly harsh proposed punishments for abortion to anti-transgender crackdowns with truly creepy implications.

The Tennessee super-majority expelled these lawmakers simply because they could–because their supermajority (courtesy of gerrymandering) allowed them to demonstrate their rejection of democratic norms and to display their animus toward colleagues who were young, Black and Democratic.

As the AP has reported

A growing chorus is pushing back against Tennessee Republicans seeking to oust three House Democrats for using a bullhorn to shout support for pro-gun control protesters in the House chamber, while the GOP has previously resisted removing its own members even when weighing criminal allegations.

Most recently, the Republican-controlled Statehouse declined to take action against a member accused of sexual misconduct, as well as those who have faced indictments or came under pressure for liking nearly nude social media posts.

Ah–but those members were White Republicans.

The Hill interviewed one of the two legislators, Justin Jones of Nashville, who said his race played a role in his expulsion from the state House on Thursday.

“I basically had a member call me an uppity Negro,” Jones, who is Black, told MSNBC’s Joy Reid after the 72-25 vote that expelled him….

“What we saw in Tennessee yesterday was an attack on democracy and very overt racism, as you can see that the two youngest Black lawmakers were kicked out, but our colleague, my dear sister, Gloria Johnson, a white woman, was not,” he said. “And we see clearly, the nation has seen clearly what is going on in Tennessee.”

What this incident very clearly underlines is the critical importance of systemic reform. It isn’t enough to elect better people–although that would certainly be helpful.

We need to reform the institutions that are not working properly. We can start with the Supreme Court, which has declined to notice that gerrymandering is incompatible with fair elections. The recent confirmation that Clarence Thomas’ corruption extends well beyond his refusal to recuse from cases implicating his wife’s political activities should provide a wake-up call.

Then we can move on to the Electoral College….


  1. Sadly, the “retreat” into minority rule also translates into our national policies as well. Reactionary or fear is driving all of this. We are losing the arguments on the international stage but blame others (China and Russia) for our poor hypocritical decisions. Brown people are another great excuse for a protracted effort to resist change.

    What’s hilarious to watch is we helped China evolve but now we consider them our enemy since they have a different belief system which works on an international scale while ours does not.

    Our belief system is the US oligarchy should lead the world, but internally, we are saying the white European descendants should lead. If you break it down further, only the white male millionaires and billionaires should lead the way and a deserve to be enriched with high incomes and enormous wealth.

    Gerrymandering is just one of many tools they use. Of course, they use the media, but that’s getting less and less reliable.

  2. I would recommend reading the article from Politico, which details the outrageous and juvenile behavior by the elected officials in Tennessee (linked below).
    I guess the good news for us is that the Tennessee legislature may take the title of World’s Worst Legislature away from ours. At least, for the race to the bottom, they seem to be pulling ahead.
    For now.

  3. One cannot find a better example of how difficulty it is to eradicate racism than the State of Tennessee. That state was part of the confederacy to keep slavery as the backbone of the southern economy, then Tennessee was the birthplace of the KKK, and later Memphis was ground zero for the assassination of Martin Luther King….. and now this. To be fair, I know that Indiana is no shinning light on racial tolerance, in fact, we only lack the national attention that Tennessee is getting. Otherwise, we too would be getting pillaged for our hypocrisy and meanness.

  4. Thank you, James, for the Politico article. Depressing. The ‘bullies of Sleepy Hollow’ have taken over the school while some of the ‘woke’ move on. There us hope inspired by two young Black leaders who know how to inspire a national stage by taking the ‘well’.

  5. Representative Gloria Johnson came forward after the 3rd vote ousting the 2nd Black duly elected Representative to say the reason she was retained is because she is white. What better source for the truth of that reprehensible action by the Tennessee Legislature and the White Nationalist Republicans. Rep. Johnson still stands strong as part of the Tennessee THREE, refusing to allow it to become the Tennessee Two which the state of Tennessee expected to happen. She has placed her life and the lives of her family in grave danger from the racist foundation of the entire state of Tennessee. It has been reported, briefly and quickly skimmed over, that Tennessee Legislature rules calls for a CENSURE and possible removal from Committees for the violation, NOT expulsion. They, like the current Representatives at the federal level, are violating their own rules.

    Republicans have this entire nation in a strangle hold whether in the majority or minority at state and federal levels. They control all three branches of government by gerrymandering district to their satisfaction and preempting laws with no one to force them to uphold their Oaths of Office once elected. The threat of taking cases to the Supreme Court holds no fear for any Republican action on issues at any level. We are watching the Republicans at the federal level wasting valuable time, resources and money to investigate the investigators who legally investigated them during the past 18 months or so. The eagerly awaited indictment, arrest and arraignment of Donald Trump has become a dud rather than the expected bomb. He and his cronies continue their threats against the Judge and the NYC AG with no end in sight and no apparent way to end it. Unless and until the mass shootings result in Republicans shedding blood; we remain in danger of our lives due to the NRA control of the MAGA, White Nationalist, Freedom Caucus control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the minority control by McConnell in the U.S. Senate. This gives those at state levels the approval and support to continue their actions against democracy, Rule of Law and ignoring the U.S. and State Constitutions.

  6. Great column today, Sheila. The expulsion action on the floor was a gross overreaction to the conduct of the legislators disrupting House proceedings. Your column explores the “why” of that overreaction. I think a lot of it has to do with gerrymandered districts…legislators knowing they don’t have to worry about a backlash.

    As far as the white legislator not getting booted, the TN Republicans say it was because her conduct was not as extreme as the other two. We don’t really know. (Proceedings on the Tennessee house floor are not allowed to be videotaped. A Republican legislator took a video anyway but the Democrats objected to it being shown during the expulsion hearings.) What is clear though is that the optics are horrible. What did the Republicans think was going to happen? The expulsion proceedings was an incredibly stupid overreaction. They made martyrs out of three people who were actually doing something wrong.

  7. I question whether we as a nation and a state, especially here in Indiana and in places like Tennessee, can continue calling ourselves a democracy when minority rule rides roughshod over the interests, values and choices that the majority of us favor. Extreme gerrymandering across the nation has made it difficult if not impossible for us to come together and find solutions to problems like gun violence.

  8. Paul Ogden, those Tennessee martyrs were caught between a rock and a hard place to begin with. Morally speaking. They could have “gone along to get along”, which is the leading strategy of members of the Republican Party, or they could break with decorum and loudly speak out against the pro-gun violence supported by the majority. I guess that you would have sat there politely with your hands folded and your mouth shut as your fellow citizens buried their murdered children.

  9. Speaking of Thomas, in 2004 when confronted by the LA Times about inappropriate gifts, his answer was to stop reporting them.

    One of my former coworkers response to Thomas’ corruption was “what about AOC”, and then he went on to spout falsehoods that are easily discredited with a Google search.

    Once you fall into the alternate reality of Republican politics, the world most be a strange and hostile place where the rules of democracy no longer apply and where anti-democratic, corrupt and/or racist actions are appreciated and accepted.

  10. EVERYTHING REPUBLICANS TOUCH DIES. Gerrymandering = Fascism. Electoral College = Tyranny of the minority.

    I’d love to see a comment from Todd that doesn’t use the word “oligarchy”, but, alas, he’s right.

  11. when a subject is so far greater and a need to bring to the front of the line,one should be vocal in a chamber that disregards human life,by selection. decorum be damn. no matter the color,tenn has stepped outta line. wether its self determination of its states legislature from our nations constitutional rights, tenn has crossed the line. looking back at 1933 germany,the same influences are now the norm in many red states. typical mockery from kevin mcmockery and lindsey the carney barker,in -the U.S. congress atests to this,and it spreads its vulgarity to state legislatures like a plaugue. we have now become the witness to the change. the only atmosphere now is to mock and distroy the fascism that has finally made traction in America. call it what it is damnit..rebuke,puke and and kick aside the people and their intent to deny rights,and make a stand to be a higher voice and put down publically any and all replublican fascists ideals,stand and rebuke them immediatly. seeing the expelled reps speak in legoslature their voice,gave me a hope we should follow. some one had the balls to tell it like it is,and where it was.
    i wrote that states tourist .gov site. my name and town i reside,and made fact,their legislature is outta line with the findamentals of our countries constitution,and self determination be damn.
    also, you may think small apples here,but im in a full boycott mode of such weekly once a year vacation of music,BBQ and plain folk,is also. my buisness isnt just driving a truck, its a specialized field above the norms, and im hard core. with the ongoing issues with trucking,(shortages) they can look elsewhere for a service that i provide. my brokers and others are now informed of my thougts about the gun issues in any state now. my safety is now in peril from the gun owners who see a shooting gallery over self restraint. my ending comment to tenn,id rather park and sleep in a ghetto before,ill park at a red neck bar on any highway in tenn..
    make the stand..

  12. Vern:
    the rich and fascist have bought and now control one party. those elelected people only have one issue.
    control America,and make the U.S.A a ticker symbol for them alone. it takes alot of money that we are shoveling into their pockets to kill us off. stop the flow, tax em to death. bring em to the court of a public opinion, and mockem as they stand.

  13. Bravo, Sheila, for highlighting the impact that gerrymandering has had on the Tennessee debacle. Delighted to see that much of the national coverage has included this vital point. But gerrymandering has worked at both ends of the Tennessee debate. The supermajority Republicans care only about winning their primaries as do the superminority Democrats who have been packed into a handful of safe D districts. Anyone who reads this a critical of the Democrats’ “good trouble” is misreading me, but let’s acknowledge that the three Tennessee Ds are being rewarded politically, as they should be.

  14. It’s time for the woke to really wake up and start making noise. There are so many insane things being done by the MAGAts I fear we may lose our democracy while we dither about what to tackle first. A judge just discounted the FDA and scientific evidence. We will soon see vigilantes at the border (It worked so well in the anti abortion effort, why not apply it everywhere)! God help us for we don’t seem able to help ourselves.

  15. The NRA Convention is going to be next weekend in Indianapolis, with a host of White Nationalists on the speakers’ podium. tfg, Pence, Braun and Banks leading the pack, they will be busy planning their next seditious actions while banning guns from the venue.
    Wouldn’t it be interesting if the TN3 joined local Moms Demand Action and other groups who have been subjected to the terrorism of the wild west ideology that the NRA pedals?
    The gun manufacturers are getting richer with every passing day in partnership with their front organization, the NRA.
    It makes me sick to think these morally corrupt sociopaths are expecting a warm welcome in a city where someone dies of gun violence almost every day.

  16. Thank you, Norris, for the excellent read of lillian lammers blog. Truly a MUST read, along with Sheila’s daily post.

  17. Oligarchy: Power structure in which power rests with a small number of people. I believe that is the foundation of the Republican party which the current GOP is trying to use to turn this country into a dictatorship with a smaller number to rule. Power resting with a smaller number of people also translates to a smaller number of rules; again the GOP actions to deregulate governing the country based on the beliefs of the few. It is not the Democratic party attempting to reduce protection of our lives, our medical care, our environment and the education of our children. Working to restore and/or maintain protection of the people from the previous administration requires a fully staffed governing body to uphold the protective regulations necessary to protect the citizenry and prevent a dictatorship. It is the Republicans who are gerrymandering districts to deregulate the specific voters voting rights to protect their few in power to remain in power and remove those from their gerrymandered districts who would vote against them.

    If both parties were based in Oligarchy we would not be in the deep shit we are in today and living in fear for our lives no matter who we are or where we happen to be at any time of day or night. FOLLOW THE MONEY! The Republicans brag about their vast amounts of donations and beg for more for a twice impeached former president now under indictment for 34 felonies with other charges waiting to be activated to pay his legal fees. The Democrats are virtually begging for money to be used by the current administration to protect citizens from the return of the nation’s most dangerous criminal to the White House with his ketchup loaded fast-food meals to either dine on or throw on the wall when he is thwarted.

    “Then we can move on to the Electoral College….”

  18. This abhorrent action by the Tennessee legislature truly marks the beginning of a new, energized civil rights movement.

  19. Republicans are essentially arms dealers that are well-paid by gun manufacturers. To keep more children (and others) alive VOTE for DEMOCRATS

    Agreed, we must tackle rampant gerrymandering and the Electoral College, as well as a legally enforceable code of ethics for the Supreme Court justices.

  20. I also hope so, David. Those racists in Nashville may not have seen the last of the representatives they booted out; after returning to the State House they may decide to become U.S . Senators.

  21. IMO — the GOP backs unregulated gun ownership so that they will be well-armed when the rest of us rise up against their tyranny. As Marjorie Taylor Greene put it so bluntly — if she had been leading the Jan 6. “event” they would have come armed and they would have won. As they trample our democracy into the dust, they will wait for the rest of us to finally say “Enough!” and then they will have a field day shooting down the revolution of thinking people against fascist crap. It’s coming — there’s no other way. They have it all sowed up — courts, state legislatures and guns.

  22. Yes Kathy, ‘Ole Marge and her ilk are pretty bloodthirsty. Every time there is a mass shooting, they run out and buy more guns, in case there is legislation banning assault weapons. Gun lovers have built up arsenals in anticipation of “civil war.”

  23. Somewhere I read that their mikes were turned off, thus the use of the bullhorn.
    Either way I believe the repugs have cracked open their perfect lives to deeper exposure.
    Many are starting to squirm

Comments are closed.