Justin Jones

By Peter White

If the Special Session was a boxing match, the Republicans won against a much smaller opponent but their hearts weren’t in the fight. The Governor had forced them to the special session and Senate Republicans really didn’t want to be there.

For five days they balked at doing any real work while spending $58,000/day keeping the Capitol open and getting their $204 per diem. On the session’s first legislative day, the Senate Judiciary Committee tabled 52 of 55 bills that are dead until at least January 2024.

Lawmakers didn’t pass a single red flag law but Republicans treated the public to dazzling displays of spitfire parliamentary procedure. Spectators were not impressed.

Moms who wanted to see action on guns, shouted “Fascists!”, “Vote Them Out!”, “You’ve Done Nothing!”, and “We will be Back!” With the support of Moms who want gun control, scrappy House Democrats made their Republican colleagues look foolish and inept at various times during the special session. Other times they just seemed unfair and unreasonable.

Democrats Counterpunch Against a Much Bigger Opponent

When the House session started, it shaped up as a cockfight between House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and Justin Jones, the young firebrand from Nashville who was expelled for leading a chant from the House floor before the regular session ended last April.

On the first legislative day of the Special Session, a reinstated Jones tried to call for a vote of no confidence in House Speaker Cameron Sexton. Sexton ruled him out of order. The next day, Sexton called him out of order again during an exchange between Jones and Rep. Gino Bulso (R-Brentwood). Bulso sponsored a bill to let private schools hire armed guards.

Here is the exchange between Sexton and Jones ending when Sexton ruled Jones out of order:

Jones: “I think it is harmful and horrible that we are proposing more guns in schools when people are asking us to remove guns from schools to protect kids and not guns.

I’ve talked to people from Williamson County…and they strongly oppose these proposals from Rep. Bulso, said they are reprehensible, they are asinine, they’re insulting, and they’re not fitting…”.

Sexton: “Rep. Jones you are about ready to be ruled out of order for a vote on the board so I would ask you to pull back from the edge of impugning the reputation of a member.”

Jones: Mr. Speaker, I was speaking about the policy. I wasn’t talking about the representative.

Sexton: No, sir, you were.”

Jones: “So Mr. Speaker can I say these proposals, these false solutions, are reprehensible, these false solutions are asinine, these false solutions are insulting to the people of the state?

I hope we can offer a real solution and stop trying to put more guns to start a gun fight in our schools that will not protect our children. What is one little glock against an AR-15?

Cameron: “Rep. Jones, that is not the bill that is before you, Sir. You’re out of order.”

This round was clearly won by Jones. He called Bulso a tool of the gun lobby and got to say his bill was reprehensible, asinine, and insulting not once, but twice.

This infuriated Bulso so much that when he got the microphone back, he fumed against Jones to the point that Sexton warned him to “stay on the bill”. Sexton called Jones out of order but not Bulso. This double standard was not lost on the crowd in the gallery.

With Jones momentarily sidelined, Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) stepped into the ring. Mitchell is older and wiser than Jones. He’s too smart to insult Bulso directly. Instead, he made him look ridiculous by asking about what his bill would do. Here is the exchange between Mitchell and Bulso:

Bulso: What this bill allows is for private schools pre-k through 12 who want to have an armed response in school to protect students, to have that flexibility.

Mitchell: What’s going to be the training of this armed response that you’re going to put in the schools?

Bulso: It’ll be the same as it is under current law. The requirements that armed response must meet for private schools k-12 is set out in the statute.

Mitchell: “So this is just the janitor, the vice principal, maybe the guidance counselor? They’re going to be the one who grabs the gun and runs down the hall? Who are the people who are going to provide the armed response in this private Christian school you’re talking about?

Bulso: “All of that is set out in 49-50-803-B—the key point being that those who are entrusted with the care of the students obviously have a solemn interest in seeing to their security…This legislation allows each private school across the state pre K-12 to adopt its own policy.”

Mitchell: “I thought we weren’t going to do anything worthwhile during this special session but this is going to take us backwards. We’ll put more guns in schools and it’s not going to do anything beneficial about gun violence in our society. If guns were the answer, folks, this is the safest country on the planet ‘cause we got more than anybody else and it doesn’t seem to be the solution.”

Bulso: “This bill does not put one gun in any school anywhere across this state it simply authorizes..…”

Mitchell: “At the end of the day we are a society of laws and we have law enforcement. We don’t need every vigilante in society running around with a gun thinking they’re the judge, jury, and executioner. And all they’re going to do is put small children in the crossfire and in a heavy fire situation law enforcement is only 16% accurate in their firing. I wonder what the guidance counselor is going to be?”

Bulso’s bill passed 70 for and 19 against.

Sexton called Jones out of order for opposing a related bill by Rep. Scott Cepicky (R- Culleoka). His bill would authorize local law enforcement to put armed guards (SRO) in schools even if a local school board did not want them.

Several Democratic members, Camper, Johnson, Love, Parkinson, Powell, and Pearson rose to Jones’ defense. Pearson wanted to know why they were voting to censure Jones but not Bulso. Voices drifted down from the balcony wanting to know, too.

Sexton then ruled the public out of order. “Department of Safety please clear the gallery for disorderly behavior.” Then spectators started chanting “Fascists!, Fascists!, Fascists!”.

Over their angry shouts, Sexton called for a vote on Cepicky’s bill. However, by that time the Democrats had started filing out of the chamber. The bill passed 69 ayes to 3 nays. Democrats didn’t win that vote or any other during the Special Session. They are used to that.

But spectators saw a Democratic caucus without its tail tucked between its legs. The Democrats were feisty, sharp, and strategic. They showed real discipline against the tyranny of the majority. After the vote, Republicans were left to congratulate themselves because their opponents had already left the room.