House retreats from approval of resolution honoring Confederate statue critic

On the “blink-and-you’ve-missed-it” motion of House Majority Leader Glen Casada, the state House has recalled from the Senate a resolution honoring Tami Sawyer, a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement and in the successful efforts to remove Confederate statues from Memphis city parks, reports Cari Wade Gervin. The initial House passage with a GOP supermajority is characterized as “this year’s installment of “Hey, maybe you should read what you are voting for.”

The resolution (HJR809) introduced by Rep. Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis) was approved as part of the “consent calendar” of non-controversial bills on Feb. 26 and had been scheduled for a vote on the Senate consent calendar for Monday — until Casada recalled it. When it initially passed the House, all legislators were officially made co-sponsors of the measure.

Speaking to Pith on Tuesday afternoon, Casada said that members first of all had “concerns” about the resolution because it specifies “the successful movement to remove Confederate statues from Memphis’ public parks.” (Note: Several Republican legislators, including Casada, have criticized the Memphis move.)

“Since it’s still in court, the removal wasn’t accomplished successfully,” Casada said.

Casada said that members also had concerns about Sawyer’s involvement in BLM “because there have been a number of Black Lives Matter members who have recently advocated for shooting police officers, and we just don’t know if it’s appropriate to honor someone involved in that kind of thing.”

For what it’s worth, Cooper did not try to sneak the resolution past anyone. It’s not her fault GOP staff didn’t know Sawyer’s name (even though she ran against Rep. John DeBerry in the 2016 Democratic primary). This is unlike last year’s scenario, in which Rep. Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna) hid the language praising Forrest in a resolution honoring a pastor who wrote a book about Forrest after a different resolution honoring both Forrest and Sampson Keeble (the first African-American elected to the Legislature) was shot down.

Although hypothetically the House could still pass the resolution honoring Sawyer a second time — or just leave it be, since they’ve already passed it — the likelihood of that is slim, which frustrates Cooper.

“Everyone in this country has a right to speak their mind, and Tami was only expressing her constitutional right,” says Cooper via email. “She was deservedly recognized as a 2018 Social Justice Honoree, and it’s disappointing that some in this body don’t want to honor that award, but that is their constitutional right as well.”

UPDATE/Note: Further from the Commercial Appeal on Thursday:

“He can’t say he has any problem with it except that I’m a black woman,” she (Sawyer) said of Casada.

Cade Cothren, spokesman for the House Republicans, said Sawyer’s accusation of racism was “absurd.” Repeating claims Casada made, Cothren said caucus members objected to language in the resolution supportive of Black Lives Matter and of the movement to remove Memphis’ Confederate statues — something the city did in a secretive Dec. 20 sale of the monuments  to a nonprofit that then removed the statues.

“There were members of the Republican caucus who felt uncomfortable their names were included on the resolution,” Cothren said.

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