NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — After the special session on public safety ended in chaos, lawmakers are reacting to the altercation between lawmakers and the session at large.
Following a contentious adjournment, House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Rep. Justin Pearson were involved in a skirmish on the floor of the House. Pearson and Sexton got in each other’s faces as Sexton was leaving the House floor, and the two were separated by lawmakers.
After the session, Pearson and Rep. Justin Jones took to the Capitol rotunda to join protestors, saying the session achieved nothing. Pearson also took the time to recount the situation.
“I was pushed by Cameron Sexton and by other folks on his team, and then he started to yell and scream as though we had done something,” he told the crowd. Rep. Jones was pushed by Rep. Cepicky as well, because we were holding signs and demanding that we protect kids and not guns. This is where we are.”
Pearson said the “authoritarian actions” of the House, like banning all signs, were devolving into “physical violence.”
“They are hurting our communities. William Lamberth, he started to scream. He wouldn’t let me walk past him, either,” Pearson added. “There is something going on in this institution that is allowing this bad behavior to persist. It is racism and white supremacy.”
Pearson called for Sexton to resign, as well as “these other leaders that allow for that behavior to happen and persist.”
“These folks who support white supremacy and patriarchy to the detriment of all of our health and all of our children, they have to go,” he said.
Pearson said he would be filing an ethics complaint against Sexton for the incident.
Sexton also spoke with media following the events, along with Republican leadership. During a press conference, Sexton said his memory of the situation was he was being led along by his security when he was “corralled” by Democratic lawmakers.
“My security put their hand on my back, which knocked me forward, and I think—I can’t remember—there was a photographer to my left, so we moved right, and that then at that point we keep walking and then Rep. Pearson comes in and pops me from the right side,” the Speaker said of the start of the skirmish between him and the freshman legislator.
House Majority Leader William Lamberth said he was right there when things happened and stepped in with other lawmakers to prevent anything else from happening.
“Whatever happened up to that point, Rep. Pearson became very irate and angry. At that junction circled around, and other members, myself and others, just kind of blocked folks off,” he said. “There’s no reason for any of that. But there’s no doubt in my mind he was very angry and aggressive toward the Speaker specifically. There’s just no need in that. We can handle issues in a passionate way without getting physical or up in each other’s face or yelling and screaming at each other. We’ve always done that in an orderly society, and specifically within the legislature. I’ve been very passionate on lots of issues. I’m very disappointed that we didn’t get more done in this special session.”
Lamberth said the lawmakers were not convened for “a bunch of yelling and screaming and folks getting up in each other’s faces.”
“It’s passionate issues, but we can do that in a professional way, I think,” he said.
House Majority Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison (R—Cosby), who a week ago brought an ostrich egg to the Senate chamber, said the situation lacked “real maturity,” saying the actions were “beneath the level of a representative.
“It lacks real maturity to go get in somebody’s personal space, and the fact that they would go and surround the Speaker and get in their personal space, try to get in their face when emotions are already high, that’s a prescription for disaster. That should’ve never been.”
Faison also took issue with Jones for going up to the Speaker’s podium and banging the gavel after the confrontation with Sexton and Pearson.
“It’s very obvious that they are wanting to not be statesmen, not wanting to make sure the will of the people are done,” he said. “They’re wanting to make sure that they’re seen. They’re wanting to put the attention on themselves and take it away from everything else and what we’ve done today.”
Find the latest news from the Tennessee State Capitol as WKRN News 2 brings you coverage of the special session. Click here to read more.