Members of the Tennessee GOP who expelled the two youngest Black Democrat lawmakers from the state House for their gun-control protest got thousands of dollars last year from Koch Industries, which is owned by the conservative Koch family and has worked to loosen gun laws, campaign finance records show.
Although the expulsions may prove to be short-lived, they sparked national outrage, including condemnation from the White House and cries for a federal response. And the protest that prompted the expulsion came in the wake of yet another mass shooting, as well as years of Tennessee Republicans loosening gun laws.
According to state campaign finance data, Koch Industries gave at least $21,500 to 28 Tennessee state Republican representatives who voted for expulsion, including state House Speaker Cameron Sexton, during the last election cycle.
Koch Industries, which is controlled by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch, is also one of the corporate backers of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has crafted model gun legislation for Republican allies to pass in state legislatures around the country, according to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD) ALEC Exposed project.
Koch Industries also gave $7500 to Gov. Bill Lee (R-TN) and an additional $11,000 to Republican candidates in the other chamber, the Senate, for a total of $39,500 in campaign contributions.
Two-thirds of the Tennessee House Republican supermajority voted on Thursday to expel Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson for leading hundreds of students in a demonstration calling for tougher gun laws and talking out of turn during House proceedings following the shooting death of three nine-year-old students and three adults at a Christian school in Nashville last month. Jones and Pearson represent Nashville and Memphis, respectively.
The lower legislative body did not, however, vote to oust Rep. Gloria Johnson (D), who is White, although she joined Jones and Pearson in protest.
ALEC, which refers to itself as a “forum for experts” and stakeholders to discuss state–level issues, has for years, and even decades in some cases, worked to oppose bans on semi-automatic weapons, support concealed carry, and encourage guns on college campuses, according to the CMD. Sample draft legislation obtained by CMD appears to have been scrubbed from ALEC’s website.
Tennessee Republicans have introduced bills to make it easier for people to carry guns onto public property and universities, as well as let faculty and staff carry concealed weapons on school grounds, and to lower the age requirement for concealed-carry permits to 18 years old.
Jones was reinstated to his House seat by unanimous vote of the Nashville Metro Council Monday.
“Today we are sending a resounding message that democracy will not be killed in the comfort of silence,” said Jones to a crowd of supporters on the state Capitol steps Monday night. "Today we send a clear message to Speaker Cameron Sexton that the people will not allow his crimes against democracy to happen without challenge."
Pearson will likely be appointed to his House seat by a similar process on Wednesday.
According to reports, Pearson says county commissioners in his district have been threatened by state officials with funding cuts if they appoint Pearson back to the state House on Wednesday.
"This is what folks really have to realize," Pearson told Common Dreams. "The power structure in the state of Tennessee is always wielding against the minority party and people.”
Sexton, who likened Jones and Pearson to January 6 insurrectionists, may have trouble of his own in the House. The investigative website Popular Info reports that Sexton does not live in his district. If true, it would violate state law and bar Sexton from keeping his office.
As interim appointees, Jones and Pearson will be eligible to run in a still-unscheduled special election and then again in the November 2024 general election.
TYT Washington Correspondent Candice Cole was previously a correspondent and senior White House producer for the Black News Channel and has worked at a number of local news outlets. You can find her on Twitter @CandiceColeNews.