In a rare rebuke, Republicans who control the state House of Representatives voted to kick out Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, two Black men who had recently joined the legislature, over their rule-breaking protest on the House floor on March 30.
Today, Tennessee represents the grim culmination of the forces corroding state politics: the nationalization of elections and governance, the tribalism between the two parties, the collapse of local media and internet-accelerated siloing of news and the incentive structure wrought by extreme gerrymandering. Also, if we’re being honest, the transition from pragmatists anchored in their communities to partisans more fixated on what’s said online than at their local Rotary Club.
This tunnel vision is part of what convinced the Republicans they had to take such an extreme step last week. Bill Haslam, a former GOP governor, told me he was struck by how even some pragmatic Republican lawmakers were scared for their lives because of the protests and convinced they had to show strength.
“They told me ‘You don’t understand,’” Haslam said.
In fact, it was the GOP legislators who didn’t understand how badly their retribution looked outside their cloakrooms, which is all the more apparent now that the two Justins are being hailed as martyrs and reinstated this week by their local governing bodies.