After voting with Republicans on a series of key issues including the Heartbeat Bill, LGBT rights, and School Vouchers, the Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Committee recently voted to remove Rep. John Deberry (D- Memphis) from the ballot as a Democrat.
It was a controversial decision, but one celebrated by many Democrats who felt that despite his lengthy service, if Deberry was going to consistently side with Republicans he was no longer worthy of having the “D” by his name on the ballot.
This was not the first time this had happened – Republicans had stripped the “R” from one of their own a few years back, and recently at the last minute to ensure Glen Casada didn’t have a primary in Williamson County, claiming her Republican “Bona Fides” weren’t strong enough,
(NOTE: They never even talked to her. We did. She is plenty conservative and had voted for many Republicans.)
Because of the timing of the decision, Deberry would not have time to file to run as an independent.
Now, Senator Ferrell Haile and Rep. Tom Leatherwood, both Republicans, have a bill that seeks to change that.
The bill would extend the deadline to file as an independent for Republicans and Democrats alike if the parties decide to strip the letter from an incumbent.
We caught up with Senator Haile yesterday. He made it clear the bill would be retroactive – meaning it WOULD enable Deberry to run as an independent in the upcoming election – and was forthcoming about the fact that that was exactly the bill’s intent: To help his “personal friend” Rep. Deberry.
This is how our conversation went:
HOLLER: We heard a rumor you have a bill to extend the deadline to allow Rep. Deberry to run as an independent. Is there any truth to that?
SENATOR HAILE: “Well it’s not just Rep. Deberry. This would apply both to Democrat & Republican parties. That if they disallow someone who’s an incumbent after the filing deadline, this would allow the individual to file as an independent to run.”
HOLLER: And is it retroactive? Would it apply to Rep. Deberry?
SENATOR HAILE: “It would. 2020 going forward.”
HOLLER: Is it only for incumbents?
SENATOR HAILE: “That’s the way it’s written right now. If they don’t want him to run as their party, fine… but give that person a chance to get on the ballot.”
HOLLER: Recently in Williamson County a Republican filed to run against Ex-Speaker Casada and was kicked off the ballot because of her “Republican Bona Fides”, so this has happened before…
SENATOR HAILE: “If I’m not mistaken the timing on that was before the filing deadline.”
HOLLER: It was like the day before.
SENATOR HAILE: “Right, so she could’ve gone out and gotten 25 signatures.”
HOLLER: I guess what I’m saying is this seems to be mainly relevant to this Deberry situation.
SENATOR HAILE: “John Deberry is a personal friend of mine. And I just don’t like to see personal friends treated wrongly. And there’s an opportunity to give him an opportunity to be on the ballot. If he gets defeated, fine… but lets give the man an opportunity.”
HOLLER: So it’s fair to say this is about the Deberry situation then?
SENATOR HAILE: It’s about this, and going forward.
Tom Leatherwood (R-Arlington) out of Shelby County will be carrying it in the house.
For a long time Tennessee Democrats have been calling for Rep. John Deberry Jr. to have the “D” next to his name removed for consistently siding with Republicans against them on many key issues. This week the Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Committee finally took that action and voted 41-18 with 2 abstentions to do just that.
Many have expressed relief, saying Deberry’s longtime support for the Tennessee Republican agenda has warranted removal for some time. Some have expressed skepticism, saying it should be up to the voters to decide.
Republicans such as Speaker Cameron Sexton have seized on the opportunity to attack Democrats, saying this shows they’re inflexible in their beliefs and calling out TNDP chair Mary Mancini on Twitter.
What would you have done @CSexton25 as leader of TN Republican Party if, say, the majority of @WilliamLamberth‘s campaign donations came from Democratic PACs/groups/ individuals? If he had a history of making large donations to Dem candidates? If he voted against you for speaker? https://t.co/PROohSnxXR
— Mary Mancini (@marymancini) April 9, 2020
It’s no surprise Republicans would rush to Deberry’s defense. They’ve regularly expressed gratitude to Deberry for standing with them on their anti-LGBT legislation, their anti-Reproductive rights bills, Governor Bill Lee’s public school-harming vouchers, and Secretary Tre Hargett’s voter registration criminalization bill to name a few.
They’ve even run ads in support of him. (“You tha man”, guys? Really?)
There are so many instances of Deberry standing with Republicans against progressive ideals that it’s hard to keep track – but that’s what we’re here for. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
On Lee’s public school-harming vouchers, Deberry was the lone Democrat to vote for the bill, which passed 50-48 after a 49-49 tie was held open for 35 minutes while disgraced former speaker Glen Casada (and likely Governor Lee) handed out goodies to convince people to switch, including MILITARY PROMOTIONS.
Eventually, Rep. Jason Zachary flipped, the public school-harming vouchers passed, and the rollout has already been a lie and bribe-filled nightmare, causing even those who voted for it to regret it.
(Of course, that hasn’t stopped Lee from including $41 million for it in the “emergency budget”.)
On Reproductive freedom, Deberry has stood with Republicans repeatedly – even when their bills were unconstitutional, and even when they would force raped teenagers to carry their rapist’s baby to term. Deberry even went so far as to call abortion “BLACK GENOCIDE”, a phrase that will be hard to forget anytime soon.
Even on something as obviously oppressive as Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s voter registration criminalization bill, Deberry couldn’t bring himself to stand on the right side of history. He abstained, a decision which was promptly shown to be cowardly and wrongheaded when a federal judge blocked the law and ripped it apart in a scathing decision.
We spoke with Deberry at length after the fact, and he didn’t seem to understand what the law even did. Which is no excuse.
Then there are Deberry’s anti-LGBT beliefs, which have caused leading voices from the Tennessee LGBT community to speak out forcefully.
Eric Patton of the Human Rights campaign wrote to the TNDP committee before the vote, saying Deberry “consistently stood against women’s rights and LGBTQ rights”, “sponsored a bill to discriminate against LGBTQ youth and adults in matters of mental health”, and “verbally supported conversion therapy”.
“As a LGBTQ community leader, it is a clear decision to deny him the party’s support in his re-election. I strongly urge you to take appropriate action to deny his petition.You have a say, as a party leader, who is allowed to run as a member. DeBerry has displayed time and time again that he has no regard for the party or its platform, let alone the marginalized people it stands to protect.He shouldn’t get the help of the party. If he’s going to stand against the marginalized, he shouldn’t be standing with us.”
Republicans have been quick to knock Democrats for taking this action, but before you put any faith in the outcry, it’s important to keep in mind Republicans have done things like this before. Speaker Kent Williams was an incumbent removed by the state party. They’ve also kicked people off of ballots for not having the proper “Republican bona fides”.
(Meanwhile They’ve let admitted child sex abuser Rep. David Byrd stay in office, as well as Speaker Casada – who lied and who covered for his “N word”-using coke-snorting chief of staff, said ugly things about women, and may have framed a civil rights activist, and was removed as speaker for it… but those are stories for a different day).
Reproductive freedoms, voting rights, LGBT rights, public schools… these are not minor issues Deberry was standing with Republicans on. And as Mary Mancini said, the majority of Deberry’s campaign donations come from Republican PACs/groups/ individuals. He has a history of making large donations to Republican candidates.
The parties have the right to do these things for a reason. Deberry’s allegiance to the Republican agenda has been a useful political tool for Republicans for long enough.
NEW: “Deberry Calls Abortion BLACK GENOCIDE”
Rep. John DeBerry, Jr. supported the “Heartbeat Bill”, which forces a woman to carry her rapist’s child to term, as well as @GovBillLee‘s public school-harming vouchers. @PPact has put up 3 billboards in Memphis about Deberry. pic.twitter.com/pfb3V00jP1
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) June 11, 2019
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Governor Lee’s effort to steer public dollars to private schools through “Education Savings Accounts” aka School Vouchers passed committee yesterday with John Deberry, Jr. the only Democrat in support.
Watch the HIGHLIGHTS
DeBerry the lone Dem in favor, @JerrySexton19 asks to “Let My People Go”??♂️
Watch/share/call. Not over yet. ?☎️ pic.twitter.com/iqPHGqF7uQ
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) March 28, 2019
And watch Rep. Harold Love and Rep. Antonio Parkinson react:
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) March 28, 2019
After a lengthy debate, Governor Bill Lee’s pet school vouchers initiative passed the education committee today with 14 votes in favor, 9 against, and 1 – Kirk Haston, a teacher from Lobelville – being recorded as “present not voting”.
This week at a budget meeting in the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee, Rep. John Deberry Jr (D-Memphis) questioned the need for the Tennessee Human Rights Commission which was established to uphold the rights of Tennessee’s minority and disability communities.