NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — After left-wing advocacy outlet The Tennessee Holler revealed edited leaked audio from a closed House Republican Caucus meeting (below), Democrats are responding.
“What is your action going to say after this?” Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) said. “What is your action going to say coming out of this?”
Parkinson was one of three Black Caucus members who Republican representatives specifically singled out in the audio.
“I listened for the last three days to Democrats Sam McKenzie, Chism, Parkinson trash us as racists,” Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) can be heard saying in the leak. “I’ve never had anybody call me a racist.”
But Parkinson pushed back on that, saying the Caucus has never called someone individually racist.
“As one of their favorite rappers, Kanye West, has said, ‘I ain’t calling you a gold digger,’” Parkinson said. “I ain’t calling you a racist. I’m not. But what I’m saying is there is a pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed.”
The leak comes on the heels of one of the most contentious three-week stretches in Tennessee political history—one that saw the House expel Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) and Rep. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis) following gun control protests in the wake of the mass shooting at The Covenant School. Then, each of their respective county commissions voted them back in the interim.
Plus, with time running low, the state has yet to even publicly consider any substantial gun reform since the shooting.
“The House and the Senate and administration are working together,” Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said. “We’ll see how that comes out in the next several days.”
But Democrats are skeptical.
“We’re going to have to find middle ground,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons said. “But we’ve got things in writing on the table, in the system. We’re just asking for the other side to join us in that effort.”
After the audio leak, common ground still feels far apart.
Parkinson, at the very least, says he’s cautiously optimistic the two sides can mend the animosity. He pointed to two members he felt embodied good qualities within the legislature.
“I think about individuals like [Rep.] Sam Whitson, who is probably one of the most upstanding people I know,” he said. “I think about [Rep.] Charlie Baum, who had the courage to vote [no on all three expulsion votes]. There’s no way we could call him racist.”
WATE’s sister station, WKRN, did reach out to every lawmaker who spoke in the audio leak and the House Republican Caucus as a whole.
Caucus press staff said, “We have no comment about private conversations.”
Rep. Jody Barrett (R-Dickson) said he is not commenting at this time.
No other lawmakers responded except Zachary, who sent the following statement:
“The leaked audio from our private caucus meeting was clipped and did not contain the entirety of our internal conversation.
Regarding my comments, it is clear from the audio that my goal was to clear the air and bring closure to the frustration our members felt after the expulsion vote on Thursday. The House Republican Caucus will not be distracted by the events of the last few weeks. We will continue to fulfill the mandate given to us by the voters in Tennessee by implementing sound conservative policy that has made Tennessee the best state in the nation to live, work and raise a family.”