On Thursday, April 6th, 2023, two Black members of the Tennessee state Assembly were expelled from the chamber. Democrats Rep. Antonio Parkinson and Rep. Vincent Dixie were both removed from their positions by a vote of their colleagues in the Republican-controlled House. Meanwhile, their white colleague, Rep. Gloria Johnson, narrowly avoided the same fate, with a vote to expel her failing by just one vote.
Expulsion from a legislative body is a serious punishment. It means that a member is immediately removed from their position and barred from participating in any further legislative business. In the case of Parkinson and Dixie, they were expelled for allegedly disrupting proceedings and refusing to follow the rules of the House. They certainly violated the decorum of the Assembly, but expulsion will probably improve their future prospects.
But while the Republican majority in the Tennessee House may have thought they were punishing the two Black lawmakers for their misbehavior, what they have actually done is turn them into heroes and martyrs. The same goes for Johnson, who was censured but not expelled. Censuring would have been a better move against Parkinson and Dixie rather than expulsion.
By taking such a drastic action, the Republicans have given the three lawmakers a national platform and garnered them sympathy and support from across the country. Social media is already lighting up with messages of support for Parkinson, Dixie, and Johnson, and it’s likely that this story will continue to make headlines in the foreseeable future.
But why did the Republicans in the Tennessee House choose to expel these lawmakers, rather than censuring them? After all, censure is a less severe punishment that still allows the member to remain in their position, yet make the point that these Democrats had behaved inappropriately.
One possible explanation is that the Republicans wanted to send a strong message to anyone who might challenge their authority or disrupt their proceedings. By expelling these lawmakers, they are showing that they will not tolerate any dissent or opposition.
However, unintended consequence is that the Republicans created martyrs out of Parkinson, Dixie, and Johnson. By making them into victims of a harsh and unfair punishment, they may have galvanized their own supporters and generate sympathy for their cause.
Either way, the Republican action has backfired. Instead of punishing the lawmakers and asserting their own power, they have inadvertently given their opponents a powerful weapon in the form of public sympathy and support.
But what does this mean for the three lawmakers themselves? In some ways, they may be better off for having been expelled. By becoming national figures and symbols of resistance, they may be able to parlay this controversy into greater political power and influence.
Already, celebrities and activists are expressing their support for the lawmakers on social media, and it’s likely that this attention will lead to more fundraising and political opportunities for them in the future.
Furthermore, by standing up to the Republican majority in the Tennessee House, Parkinson, Dixie, and Johnson have demonstrated their courage and commitment to their principles. They have shown that they are willing to put their own positions on the line to stand up for what they believe in.
In the end, the Republican action to expel these lawmakers may have unintended consequences for both sides. While it may have momentarily boosted their own authority, it has also created a new generation of political heroes and martyrs. Kamala Harris is just one of many leaders and celebrities planning to help these three Democrats.