EXCLUSIVE: Rep. Deberry Not Calling For Casada’s Resignation Yet, Wants to Talk “Man To Man”

We had a chance to catch up with Memphis Democrat Rep. John Deberry Jr. by phone this morning. Deberry was the lone Dem to vote in favor of the Governor’s School Vouchers, and one of the only Dems to support the “Heartbeat Bill”, which sought to ban abortions after 6 weeks.

Deberry says he’s an “independent-minded” legislator, and says he wanted to talk to Speaker Casada in person before either calling for his resignation or supporting his continued leadership. (Here’s our new VIDEO of what has happened on Casada’s watch this session, as a refresher)

Q: Can you tell us your thoughts on the Speaker Casada situation, and whether or not you think he should resign?

JD: “I’m going to keep my comments pretty short and generic on it because I’ve been traveling a lot since the end of session making a living… I’ve read the comments and statements that have been made, but I haven’t talked to Speaker Casada himself. Until I talk to the speaker, until I look at him man to man, eyeball to eyeball and find out what he has to say about current events I don’t have a whole lot of opinion. Basically I think a whole lot has been said that is premature. I know that some of the things that have been done have been repugnant, and I’m quite sure he knows that also – and unacceptable, and I’m quite sure he knows that also – but here again I have worked with Speaker Casada ever since he came into the legislature as a Freshman. He was on my committee when I chaired Children and Family. So I will give him the benefit of talking to him man to man before I make any type of statements as to what his future, that he decides what his future ought to be.”

Q: Do you think he’s in a position to be honest with you considering he’s been found to have been lying about this quite a few times already?
JD: “I’m not naive. I’m not saying I’ll approach him with any type of naiveté. I’ve been preaching for over 50 years, I’ve raised 2 children and I’ve dealt with all types of situations. Like I would do with any other individual that has been accused of something, I would give him the opportunity to explain. Whether I accept it or not would be my prerogative. I think he’s going to have a very difficult time explaining this away. I think he’s going to have a very difficult time regaining the trust of the public and of the legislature, and of his colleagues, and I think that’s going to be the test set before him in the coming days.”
Q: We’re going to ask the same question that was asked of the Governor — If Speaker Casada worked for you, and you knew someone under him had been doing cocaine in the office and he had covered up for him, and that he himself had participated in lewd text messages, would you ask him to resign?
JD: “It’s unacceptable, and I don’t think any of us condone it, but I’m not going to go on record and ask him to resign. I’m quite sure that it will be very difficult for him to survive it. And that’s what I will say.”
Q: The Democratic caucus has made their position that he should resign. Are you on board with that?
JD: “I haven’t made any type of vote, any type of collective statement with the Democratic caucus. My colleagues have the absolute right to think and say what they think and believe and say. I have always conducted myself in the legislature as a person who thinks independently and I try to look at situations on their merit. We’re all grown. We’re not naive. We know exactly what we’re looking at, and we know exactly what has to be done in order to correct the situation. The caucus has the absolute right to make those statements. So does the governor and everyone else. At the same time there is a human being involved here. And I am always – no matter who that person is, Republican or Democrat, I am always going to deal with that human being and try to do what I can to try to help them as they try to make that transition. If Speaker Casada resigns, he’s going to resign with at least one person trying to help him move on with life and be a better person and never make those mistakes again, and that’s the way I choose to approach it.”
Q: When do you foresee having the time to look him in the eye and talk to him?
JD: “I absolutely plan on talking with Speaker Casada. There’s no way something of this magnitude is going to happen without looking at him man to man and eyeball to eyeball and him understanding exactly where I stand. I do have a position. And it is not resignation or avoidance. It is simple that that’s the way I deal with people. I’ve been there for 25 years. I’ve watched men destroy themselves. We used to raise chickens on the farm. And when there was a spot on one chicken all the chickens pecked at it until the chicken was dead. It’s my responsibility as someone who’s been there, who’s senior, to step back and do everything I can to help the institution be better, and also help the person be better.”
Q: What about what happened to Justin Jones?
JD: “I repudiate that behavior. I think that that was wrong. I’m not justifying any of this. I’m simply saying if I had an opportunity to deal with that young activist, I’m proud of him. I marched with Dr. King. I was there when he made his last speech. I dodged a billy club and dogs on Beale Street. So don’t think for one second that I don’t understand the wrong on that side also. I do. And I would love to have an opportunity to talk to that young man because I’m proud of his bravery. But I’m simply saying whoever I get a chance to talk to, I’m going to do what I can to be encouraging. And I hope this young man doesn’t stop being active and vocal.”
Q: Do you feel that the sentiment that we saw, that we witnessed in those private conversations has echoed in some of the legislation that’s been passed this session? For instance the Voter Registration Criminalization bill?
JD: “I think what we have seen in America, and in Tennessee, is a resurgence of the ugly head of prejudice and bigotry and speech that does not necessarily build the country. For the sake of the world America has to be strong, and we’re never strong when we come after each other the way we’ve done the past several years. People think it’s in style to say things that were not in style in the 70’s and 80’s after the Civil Rights movement… for some reason some think that it’s ok. So if our legislation reflects that, that’s something we’re going to have to step back and take a look at. The thing about the legislature is it’s dynamic. We’ve straightened up a bunch of messes over the years. And if we have to go back and re-examine some of the legislation, and stand and fight and make sure it does not work against activists like that young man or the nation as a whole I think most of us are ready to do that without apology and without shame.”
Holler at Rep. Deberry HERE.

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