Protesters prompt McNally to push tighter security

A day after shouting protesters stopped two legislators from holding a Legislative Plaza press conference, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said Thursday that a return to tighter security measures at the state Capitol complex is needed.

From The Tennessean:

McNally said… that he is considering reinstating a policy that was eliminated to require visitors to the legislature to have an ID scanned and wear a badge while visiting. He said some of the behavior from protestors, like preventing them from getting on elevators and leaving “shouldn’t occur.”

“We’re in favor of going back to have a little more security,” McNally said.

The move would require a joint effort between both Senate and House leadership.

McNally said it may require an entry process similar to what is used in most schools, which require visitors to scan an ID at an entry point and wear a visitor’s badge.

“I think people having name tags on, it’s a little bit of a deterrent to being violent or disruptive,” McNally said.

Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said constituents should have easy access to their representatives, and the House Democratic Caucus will soon begin having come-one-come-all type meetings weekly in the Plaza to allow constituents to ask questions.

“We should be bending over backwards to allow the public to come speak with us,” he said.

Note: Previous post on protesters stopping the new conference is HERE.

‘Bathroom bill’ news conference stopped by protesters

A press conference State Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, was first disrupted by protesters, then cancelled on Wednesday afternoon. Some of the protesters then followed the legislators into a Legislative Plaza hallway, confronting them with slogans and critical commentary, until Beavers and Pody were escorted from the Plaza by state troopers.

The Wilson County lawmakers had announced in an email to media they would “discuss HB888/SB771 (Bathroom Bill) and HB892/SB752 (Defense of Natural Marriage Act)” at the news conference.

The “bathroom bill” would requires transgender persons to use the rest room designated for their birth gender. The “Defense of Natural Marriage Act, according to the summary on the legislative website, “states the policy of Tennessee to defend natural marriage between one man and one woman regardless of any court decision to the contrary.” Both are sponsored by  Beavers and Pody.

About 100 protesters filled the seats in a House committee hearing before Pody and  Beavers arrived and sat quietly, bearing signs such as ‘Flush the bathroom bill” and “No hate in out state.” When the legislators walked in, Pody began reading a statement – starting by quoting a 2006 state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

But protesters in the crowd then began shouting things such as “Pull the bill” and “You’re wasting taxpayer money.” The legislators then left the room. Reporters followed, but so did perhaps 15 or 20 of the protesters, continuing to confront the legislators, who offered no comment.

“Are you legislating from the Bible, sir, or are you legislating from the constitution?” said one man, loudly, to Pody.

Highway Patrol officers, including Col. Tracy Trott, escorted Pody and Beavers separately to an elevator they could take to their cars in the Plaza parking garage.

Note: For more quotes and commentary, see Cari Wade Gervin’s report HERE.

Bill giving civil immunity to drivers who hit protesters draws protests

A group of protesters rallied in front of radio station WHCB Tuesday to protest a bill sponsored by Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, that would grant civil immunity to drivers who unintentionally injure protesters, reports the Johnson City Press.

The protesters chose the radio station at 2175 Hwy 75 because Hill hosts his radio show, Bible Buddies, at that station and does not have a local office.

If passed, the bill, HB0668, would take effect July 1 and protesters injured by drivers would not be able to sue them. Hill specified that the bill would not protect drivers who intentionally or carelessly injure protesters from criminal charges.

“We want to remind Matthew Hill that he does have constituents, and we are paying attention to the bills that he has written and introduced within the last several days, and they did not come from us,” event organizer Ruth Taylor Read said. “He’s not representing us and we want him to know that.”

… Read said Indivisible Tri-Cities invited state representatives for a meeting at Covenant Presbyterian church in Kingsport on Sunday, but so far only Rep. Bud Husley has agreed to meet with members of the group.

“We are tired of them representing their own personal interests instead of our own,” she said. “That’s not what we pay them to do. And now we are paying attention, we’re watching. We’re holding them accountable.”

A sampler of reporting on TN anti-Trump protesting

A ‘Kookfest’ at Duncan’s office

About 100 people who gathered outside U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan’s office Friday for what they called “Kookfest” in response to the congressman’s choice of words in a letter refusing to hold a town hall meeting, reports the News Sentinel. In the letter, he said such a meeting “would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals.”

They came to sign up for one-on-one meetings, as Duncan suggested in the letter, but were told to make their requests online.

“I was calling my congressman and two senators and felt like I was being blown off,” said Sarah Herron, founder of Indivisible East Tennessee and an organizer of Kookfest. “I was getting canned responses or template letters and I felt like, maybe if there was a group of us, it would be a more effective way to communicate.”

Indivisible East Tennessee is based off a national “Indivisible” movement inspired by the publication of the Indivisible Guide, an online guide published by former congressional staffers in the aftermath of Trump’s election with tips on the best ways to get the attention of members of Congress. The movement describes itself as a “practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda” and has spurred events similar to the march on Duncan’s office across the country.

A closed door at Roe’s office

About a dozen members of Indivisible Tennessee showed up at U.S. Rep. Phil Roe’s district office seeking air concerns about the Trump presidency, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

The group didn’t immediately get into the Kingsport Higher Education Center, where Roe’s district office is located. Instead, the group was met in the parking lot by district Director John Abe Teague, who gave each member paperwork to fill out, asking for contact information and a list of their concerns.

That information, Teague promised, will be forwarded to the congressman.

In a separate blog post, reporter Hank Hayes says the office door was locked – noting the contrast with the late former Congressman Jimmy Quillen’s oft-declared policy of “my door is always open” – and Teague emerged only when a reporter showed up and knocked. Teague eventually agreed to let the group come inside to fill out the paperwork when it started to rain.

Protesters call for Puzder to ‘stay home’ in Franklin

Between 50 and 100 people gathered in the center of Franklin’s public square Saturday to send a message to Andrew Puzder, President Donald Trump’s embattled nominee for labor secretary: Stay home, reports The Tennessean.

“Franklin is a beautiful place,” said Laura Gilbert, who is on the steering committee of Nashville Indivisible, which along with Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice organized the protest. “Andy, welcome. Just stay home. Don’t go to Washington.”

Puzder is a Franklin resident and CEO of CKE Restaurants, which includes Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants. He’s faced criticism as Trump’s nominee but retained GOP support after he recently admitted he employed an undocumented housekeeper for years. His confirmation hearing, already postponed four times, is set for Feb. 16.

“I don’t feel that Puzder honors or respects workers, and I don’t believe he will uphold the labor laws,” said Karla Barde, a retired educator who held an American flag Saturday in protest of the nomination. “I don’t believe he respects women.”

Black (flustered?) faces pro-Obamacare protesters at GOP town hall

In reporting that “raw emotions are boiling over” in protests against Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare nationwide at town hall meetings, CNN cites examples of protests involving congressmen in Utah and Tennessee.  In the latter case, U.S. Rep. Diane Black (who chairs a House committee looking at Obamacare repeal and is eyeing a run for governor) was the focus — though three Republican state legislators were also on hand.

An excerpt from the Tennessee portion of the CNN report (followed by an excerpt from the local Murfreesboro newspaper):

And some 1,700 miles away in the town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Black was met with roughly 100 protesters at a “Ask Your Reps” event hosted by the Middle Tennessee State University’s College Republicans.

Mike Carlson, a 32-year-old student from Antioch, Tennessee, said that as an overweight man, he depended on Obamacare to stay alive.

“I have to have coverage to make sure I don’t die. There are people now who have cancer that have that coverage, that have to have that coverage to make sure they don’t die,” Carlson said. “And you want to take away this coverage — and have nothing to replace it with! How can I trust you to do anything that’s in our interest at all?”

Jessi Bohon, a 35-year-old high school teacher who lives in Cookeville, Tennessee, was visibly emotional as she stood up and posed her question.

“As a Christian, my whole philosophy in life is pull up the unfortunate,” Bohon said, a comment that drew verbal affirmation from others in the room. “The individual mandate: that’s what it does. The healthy people pull up the sick.”

Continue reading

On twittering debate over ‘paid protesters’ at Haslam speech

Cari Wade Gervin reviews – and makes a stab at debunking – widely-reported contentions that some of the protesters at the state Capitol last week were paid to protest. Excerpt from her Nashville Scene post:

Last Monday, close to a thousand people peacefully protested at the state Capitol during Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State address…. After the event, state Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) tweeted, “Despite what the media may report several of the protesters admitted that they had been paid to be at the TN Capitol.

(For earlier reports, see The Tennessean and WZTV-TV for examples. Bailey told WKRN-TV that he learned of the protester payments from a “reliable source” that he was unwilling to reveal for “security reasons.” He also noted there were cars with out-of-state license plates in the state Capitol area and said “one would assume” those might indicate presumed paid protesters.)

Anyway, a couple of days ago, Bailey shared a video to his official Facebook page, seemingly as justification for his laughable claims… (that includes the comment) “And here we have tonight the protesters who came out tonight on private buses. I wonder who paid for those, George Soros.”

… (T)he “paid buses” are actually Nashville Downtown Partnership parking shuttles. And the reason those shuttles were parked at the Capitol last Monday night was not to ferry protesters to and from their cars, but to ferry legislators to and from the Ryman, where Metro lobbyists hosted a reception featuring members of the cast of Nashville. Which means the buses were “paid” — and that money came from the tax dollars of Nashvillians, not billionaire Democratic donor Soros — but it also means that neither (video producer Johnnie Lee) Maynard nor Bailey bothered to read the signage on the buses.

Protests are planned again for Monday afternoon at the Capitol — Tennessee seems to be getting its own Moral Mondays going — and given that the president himself has now been tweeting about “paid protesters,” it seems likely Bailey will soon be joined by a number of other legislators who would rather cling to a fiction that anyone who disagrees with them has to be paid to do so.

Thousands attend TN protests onTrump immigration moves

There were protests aimed at President Donald Trump’s moves on refugees and immigration across Tennessee on Wednesday. Stephanie Teatro, a co-director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, which organized protests under the title “We All Belong,” tells The Tennessean that 3,500 persons attended the Nashville event, apparently the largest in the state.

Metro police estimated at one point that there were 1,500 demonstrators and said everything went well. The event included translation services in Somali, Arabic and Spanish, as well as voter registration tables.

About 2,000 people came to the Memphis vigil, about 1,500 in Chattanooga, over 1,000 in Knoxville, about 600 in Murfreesboro and 200 in Sewanee, Teatro said.

Here are some other reports on the protests appearing in Tennessee media:

Continue reading

Hundreds protest as Haslam delivers State of the State speech

While Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his State of the State speech Monday evening, hundreds of protesters were on hand outside the House chamber and their chants were sometimes audible within, reports WPLN.

Their mantra was “We are watching you,” delivered in a slow, hushed chant — like a group whispering en masse — holding signs with intense eyes. The vow of demonstrators was to keep tabs on state lawmakers on a range of hot-button subjects, such as abortion, guns and religious freedom.

…Much of the demonstration keyed off of moves made by President Donald Trump and federal policies. But some, like William Moore, 44, of South Nashville, also oppose state measures.

“They can’t keep passing hate-filled regulations under the auspices of faith and belief,” he said. “We won’t stand for it.”

Moore, who described himself as a recovering addict, specifically spoke of a Senate bill that he worries will meddle with regulations for counselors.

Demonstrators also sang songs and occasionally cheered for some lawmakers as they entered for Haslam’s speech. But another message was clear when the elected officials departed, as the chant turned to a raucous, “You work for us!”

The governor did not touch on the subjects that were fueling demonstrators — like the president’s refugee ban.

Later, Democratic lawmakers called the turnout “unprecedented,” and asked for ongoing participation, including in elections.

“I thought you did an excellent job getting your message out,” Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, told a group of demonstrators afterward. “We know you are watching, and we want to do what’s best for the people of our state, from the rural areas to the urban areas, to folks of all income means and folks of all status of life.”

Alexander, Corker draw protesters, offer comment on Trump refugee order

Tennessee’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both sent statements to media Sunday offering mild criticism of the way President Trumps executive order on refugees was handled.

Also Sunday, hundreds of protesters showed up at the Corker and Alexander offices to offer criticism in more strident terms with Mayor Megan Barry offering supportive comments, reports the Nashville Scene.

Alexander statement: “This vetting proposal itself needed more vetting. More scrutiny of those traveling from war-torn countries to the United States is wise. But this broad and confusing order seems to ban legal, permanent residents with ‘green cards,’ and might turn away Iraqis, for example, who were translators and helped save lives of Americans troops and who could be killed if they stay in Iraq. And while not explicitly a religious test, it comes close to one which is inconsistent with our American character.”

Corker statement: “We all share a desire to protect the American people, but this executive order has been poorly implemented, especially with respect to green card holders… The administration should immediately make appropriate revisions, and it is my hope that following a thorough review and implementation of security enhancements that many of these programs will be improved and reinstated.”

Start of the Scene report:

Hundreds (maybe even more than a thousand — News Channel 5 was told 1,500) gathered outside U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander’s West End offices this afternoon to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees and immigration. Between chants of, “No wall, no ban,” speakers shared their own stories about coming to Nashville and finding a welcoming home here. Some opened up about how the executive order affects their lives, including taking away their ability to visit family during school breaks.

Mayor Megan Barry also spoke and supported the protesters, urging Nashvillians to create a place that’s welcome to everyone. “America is stronger and better when we have each other’s back. And we have each other’s back in Nashville,” Barry said.

After the cheers, Barry was asked if Nashville would be a sanctuary city, a place that would protect undocumented immigrants. She couldn’t give the crowd the answer it was hoping to hear — which, as someone near me said, would be, “Hell yes!” — but she did say, “I would ask you to help me help the state legislature understand the power that we need here in Nashville. And I will tell you that a sanctuary city, you can use the language, but it’s about the action. The action is in the words and the words are the fact that in Nashville we are not going to make our police immigration officers. They’re not gonna do it.

Note: Politico says Corker and Alexander join a number of other Republican officeholders unhappy with the refugee moves, HERE. There was also a protest march in Chattanooga, reports the Times-Free Press. The Tennessean has a report on the Nashville doings HERE. (Both newspapers include the above Alexander and Corker comments.)

Teachers protest Alexander’s backing of DeVos, ignored phone calls

About 150 people, many of them teachers, protested outside Sen. Lamar Alexander’s Nashville office Friday in a show of opposition to the Republican senator’s support for Betsy DeVos as U.S. secretary of education, reports The Tennessean.

Educators at the protest said DeVos, a Michigan billionaire and vocal supporter of charter school expansion, is not qualified for the job. Unlike former education secretaries, DeVos has not attended, taught or held a leadership position in public schools.

DeVos, at times, was unable to answer questions about education policy and law at her confirmation hearing Jan. 17. Democrats were on the attack during the meeting, while Republicans defended DeVos, including Alexander, who said she is “on our children’s side.”

Educators said they hope Alexander will reconsider his support of DeVos.

“We’re here because we’re schoolteachers, because we’re parents,” said Jenee Peters, a sixth-grade math teacher in Washington County. “She never went to public school, her children never went to public school. She knows nothing about public school, and that was very clear during her confirmation hearings.”

… Numerous teachers said they’ve called Alexander’s offices to be met only by messages of a full voicemail box.

A spokeswoman for Alexander said in a statement his staff has answered office telephones as fast as possible, but there’s been an overwhelming number of calls, mostly from people with various opinions on President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees.

“Sen. Alexander welcomes all Tennesseans’ comments and keeps them in mind when making decisions,” the statement said.


Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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