NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tension between Republicans and Democrats this session in Tennessee has been steadily growing since the start.
But Monday night, the brakes fell off and it arguably sped toward chaos, as lawmakers had to be separated from each other.
“It wasn’t out of control, we had protesters,” Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said. “We’ve had protesters for a lot of years, and it’s been fine.”
It came to a head when Republicans introduced resolutions to expel Reps. Justin Jones (D-Nashville), Justin Pearson (D-Memphis), and Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville).
Protesters in the House chamber began shouting and Sexton had to order THP to escort them out. As it happened, lawmakers took videos on their phones.
Jones was recording next to the head and face of Rep. Justin Lafferty (R-Knoxville) when he said Lafferty hit his phone out of his hand.
“I can tell you what I saw happen. What I was having to do was remove people from the balcony because of disorderly conduct,” Sexton said. “So, I was focused, having to get the troopers because the troopers could not hear me ask them to clear the balcony for that disruption.”
The whole day saw emotion running at an all-time high. In the morning, thousands of students rallied to protest gun laws in Tennessee.
“I’m right back where I was four years ago, crying,” former Parkland resident Jessica Kaufman, 15, said. “It’s just been hard to think that nothing’s been changed, and there’s still protests going on about everything.”
Then, later on in the evening, elementary school students and parents sang and chanted outside the House chamber, forcing a tunnel for House lawmakers to walk through.
Protesters are planning another event Thursday, which will see the vote for expulsion for the self-labeled ‘Tennessee Three.’
The expected move to expel could drive the already-deep wedge between parties even deeper.
“We’re trying not to get Washington here. The problem you have with Washington is no one’s holding them accountable for their actions,” Sexton said. “These individuals have to be held accountable. We hold people accountable every single day.”
The three didn’t see it the same way.
“I’m not here today to plead mercy to say, you know, you cut me, you took me off committee,” Jones said Monday. “They’re threatening to expel us, they’re trying to make an example. This is a political lynching.”
Sexton countered that the offense is unprecedented, thus it justifies an unprecedented punishment.
“This offense has never happened in 200 years. Two hundred years,” he said. “So, if this doesn’t rise to that level, then what does?”