Tennessee State Rep. Justin Jones of Nashville speaks outside the state Capitol

State Rep. Justin Jones speaks outside the Tennessee Capitol on April 10, 2023 in Nashville.

(Photo: Seth Herald/Getty Images)

Justin Jones Pushes for No-Confidence Vote Against Tennessee's GOP House Speaker

"It is clear that the house speaker, Cameron Sexton, is determined to continue leading our state down the path to failure, humiliation, and authoritarianism."

Tennessee State Rep. Justin Jones announced Monday that he will be calling for a vote of no confidence against Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton, pointing to multiple allegations of misuse of taxpayer dollars and the Republican's repeated attempts to smear gun violence protesters.

"It is clear that the house speaker, Cameron Sexton, is determined to continue leading our state down the path to failure, humiliation, and authoritarianism," Jones (D-52) wrote in a letter to his Tennessee House colleagues as they prepared to resume a special session ostensibly aimed at generating a legislative response to the deadly shooting at Covenant School in Nashville earlier this year.

Following that shooting, Jones and two fellow Tennessee Democrats took to the House floor with a bullhorn and joined demonstrators in calling for action to curb gun violence.

The Republican-dominated House, with Sexton (R-25) leading the way, responded by voting to expel Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson (D-86). The two Democratic lawmakers were swiftly reinstated by county officials, and both handily won reelection earlier this month.

In his letter on Monday, Jones rattled off a number of accusations that have been leveled against Sexton, including his alleged use of taxpayer funds to "relocate an intern after the former Republican House vice chairman was found to be sexually harassing her."

Jones also cited Sexton's role in the "unprecedented retaliatory effort to expel three duly elected lawmakers, an unapologetic abuse of power debasing the office of the speaker."

"It is for these reasons that the House must perform its duty to hold the speaker to account and exercise an internal check on power," Jones wrote. "At a time of record low approval ratings for the Legislature, this is not just a vote of no confidence in the speaker but a vote to restore confidence in this body with the people of Tennessee."

The Tennessee Legislature's special session got off to a chaotic start last week, with one commentator describing the proceedings as "a conundrum of epic proportions." Both the Tennessee House and Senate have passed a number of bills thus far, but none come anywhere close to the kinds of gun law reform that Jones and other lawmakers and advocates are demanding.

The Tennessee House "has moved forward proposals without the Senate, including one to let people with carry permits bring guns to schools," TheAssociated Pressreported.

Sexton and other House Republicans, meanwhile, have done their best to stifle dissent at the special session. As part of a new slate of rules, GOP lawmakers attempted to ban members of the public from bringing signs into committee rooms—though firearms were still allowed under the rules.

"One mother of children who attend Covenant was left in tears after a subcommittee chair ordered state troopers to clear the room after demonstrators held up small signs, a violation of new House rules," the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Sunday.

Days after the rules were enacted, a Tennessee judge temporarily blocked the sign ban after the ACLU sued.

In an interview on Democracy Now! late last week, Jones compared Sexton to former President Donald Trump, saying that "it has been a very disturbing special session in which we have our own mini Trump, a man who violates constitutional rights, who tries to shut down dissent, who tried to overturn the election results in my district and Rep. Pearson's district by expelling us and ignoring the voices of our constituents."

"The Tennessee Capitol does not look like the People's House," said Jones. "There are cords, cordoned ropes, put around the rotunda so people cannot protest and exercise their First Amendment right fully. Half of the gallery has been shut down, is only open to lobbyists, and so people can only sit on one side and have to get there hours early."

"You can still bring a gun into committee," Jones added. "But you cannot bring in a small paper sign that says 'stop gun violence'—until the judge granted that temporary restraining order that the speaker is now challenging. And in his continued attempt to silence lawmakers, if we are ruled out of order, we can be silenced indefinitely on the House floor under the new House rules that were instituted by the Republican supermajority."

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