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No. 659: Fighting the Law
Photo by Maxim Hopman / Unsplash

No. 659: Fighting the Law

📅 Today, Davis debunks a talking point about gun laws, and Megan wonders if Justin Jones is good or bad at his job.

Good afternoon, everyone.

There’s a talking point being distributed that’s not new, but I expect to hear it more often as the General Assembly starts moving through and authoring bills. It appeared this morning in a Tennessee Lookout story on a proposed constitutional amendment put forth by Cameron Sexton, which would give judges more leeway to hold defendants without bail on a greater variety of violent crimes such as child rape. Currently, judges can only deny bail for capital murder.

Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City Memphis and a critic of the amendment quoted in the article, notes that judges can already set unaffordable bail in certain circumstances and  says it's unnecessary. Maybe he has a point. I don't know.

Whatever the case, what stuck out to me most were Spickler's comments on how to reduce violent crime—more money for K-12 and food programs, expanding Medicaid, and common sense gun reform.

That last point was supported by a graph of guns used in violent crimes in Tennessee since 2008, with a little notation indicating that every time the number of incidents increased, there were bills passed by the Tennessee General Assembly that could explain it. In 2013, it was guns in trunks. In 2019, it was the permitless carry law.

I find this explanation weak. The same trend can be observed nationally in terms of violent criminal incidents, specifically among homicides involving a firearm. A more likely explanation is that the observable spikes in violent crime occurred in the aftermath of highly publicized incidents such as the killing of Michael Brown in 2014—which kicked off protests in Ferguson, Missouri, empowered a then-nascent BLM movement, and resulted in riots across the country. In 2020, the death of George Floyd led to protestors burning down an entire police precinct in Minneapolis and the weakening of policing departments across the country.

Many people forget, but things got so crazy in 2016 that a man killed five police officers in Dallas, Texas during one of these protests—the deadliest incident for U.S. law enforcement since 9/11. I mention this anecdote just to remind people how out of hand things were even before the fog of Covid and the Summer of Floyd.

Just something to be aware of.

Onward.

Nashville

✸ IS JUSTIN JONES JUST BAD AT HIS JOB?

From Megan Podsiedlik

“A Tennessee legislative staffer has been placed on leave after Democratic state Rep. Justin Jones says the staffer yelled at him in a hallway,” reads the first line of an AP article. The legislative aide, who apparently confronted Jones over his taking money in exchange for pictures was given a “disciplinary suspension” until May 3rd. “On the evening of January 9, 2024, you were in an inappropriate confrontation with a Member of the House of Representatives,” states the letter the aide received from Connie Ridley, the legislature’s administrative director. 

This is the latest reported row involving Jones, who seems constitutionally incapable of avoiding conflict with those around him. On June 10th, 2020, then-activist Jones helped launch a protest after legislators shot down a bill to remove the capitol’s Nathan Bedford Forrest bust. On June 18th, Jeneisha Harris, co-founder of the National Black Action Committee, took to Facebook.

“I have to speak about this publicly because my spirit won’t let me sleep tonight if I don’t,” she wrote, before accusing Jones of witnessing and purposely ignoring two sexual assaults that took place during the weeklong demonstration. Though we have made numerous attempts to contact Harris about the incident, she has not come forward to clarify her accusation. The post is flooded with comments describing less-than-satisfactory encounters with Jones, of which we have made inquiries to no avail. That being said, Harris’ post remains available for public view.

DOESN’T PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS

Being elected to office didn’t do much to change Jones’s disposition. Multiple Democrats have disparaged Jones’ style of politicking. “When this all began, Justin and [Rep. Justin Pearson] wanted to be expelled, and I think all of us were working hard to try to keep them from being expelled,” Rep. Johnny Shaw (D-Bolivar) told the Lookout. “All I can say is the chaos needs to stop on both sides, but it takes both sides to stop the chaos.”

Jones’ rift with the Democratic caucus is a minor concern compared to his nonexistent relationship with Republicans, who happen to control the state legislature. The Pamphleteer has been given multiple, first-hand accounts of Jones complaining about his lack of allies. Shaw expressed a common sentiment shared among Jones’ colleagues: “You don’t get up and trash people every time you stand up and expect to get something done.” 

During the expulsion hearings last year, Rep. Sabi "Doc" Kumar (R-Springfield) accused Jones of referring to him as a “brown face” in a committee meeting. This year, Jones was booted from the House Education Admin Committee on January 11th; the appointment was originally made by House Speaker Cameron Sexton during special session, who then pulled Jones from the committee a day after Jones called the Speaker “drunk with power” during a House floor meeting.

CLEANING UP HIS ACT?

This session, Jones has laced his catalog of legislation with a few less controversial bills. Early in session, for instance, Jones attempted to reach across the aisle with a farm equipment bill, which would likely gain support from some of his more rural colleagues. Though Jones’ district only accounts for a fractional portion of the state’s agriculture industry, his attempt to reach out did not land him a Republican sponsor on the bill.

He also put forward a conservation bill to protect sandhill cranes, which fell flat among certain conservationists: “In TN, there's a regulated season for sandhill cranes where around 2,500 tags are issued. 2 per hunter,”  columnist Kenn Cody posted on X. “They are protected, and the licensing fees from hunters are the reason that refuges like the one you are at in this video even exist. Astounding ignorance on wildlife law.”

At the end of the day, most of Jones’ bills, such as his reparations bill, are more performative than they are practical by design. For someone known to suck the air out of the room during session, his failure to walk the talk continues to be the defining of Jones’ political career.

HEADLINES

Lobbyists Disclose $200K in Political Giving (Scene) Amazon lobbyist Michelle Gaskin Brown reported $67,500 in total political spending, the highest amount from any individual filing. She spread $12,500 between 15 council candidates in August and September, all of whom had already won election at the time of her donations.

Gloria Johnson confirms she plans to run for both U.S. Senate and state House (TNJ) Tennessee Republican lawmakers are advancing legislation to bar candidates for state and federal offices from appearing on party primary or general election ballots for two or more offices. Democrats charge the legislation is aimed at state Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Knoxville Democrat who is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood.

Nashville songwriters side with Universal in TikTok dispute (Axios) Universal pulled its music from TikTok last week after failing to reach an agreement on a contract extension. The company says it has three areas of disagreement with TikTok: fair compensation for its artists and songwriters, protecting music creators from the negative impacts of artificial intelligence and the online safety of TikTok users.

DEVELOPMENT

  • Germantown café building relisted with increased asking price (Post)
  • Dunkin’ set for ex-Starbucks space in Capitol View (Post)
Entertainment

THINGS TO DO

View our calendar for the week here and our weekly film rundown here.

📅 Visit our On The Radar list to find upcoming events around Nashville.

🎧 On Spotify: Pamphleteer's Picks, a playlist of our favorite bands in town this week.

👨🏻‍🌾 Check out our Nashville farmer's market guide.

TONIGHT

🎸 Josh Halper's Bossa Nova Band @ The Blue Room, 7p, Free, Info

🪕 JD Pinkus @ The Cobra, 7p, $10, Info
+ with Tall Tall Trees

🎙️ Patti LaBelle @ Schermerhorn Symphony Center, 7:30p, $37+, Info

🎙️ Drake with J. Cole @ Brigestone Arena, 8p, $115+, Info

🍀 Live Irish Music @ McNamara’s Irish Pub, 6p, Free, Info

🎸 Kelly’s Heroes @ Robert’s Western World, 6:30p, Free, Info

🎸 Open Mic @ Fox & Locke, 6:30p, Free, Info
+ vet community here

In case you missed it...

📰 Check out the full newsletter archive here.

No. 658: What is a housing crisis?
📅 Today, we download last night’s council meeting. Davis talks about the zoning bills, and Megan, the rest.
No. 657: Pouring One Out for Toby Keith
📅 Today, Davis eulogizes Toby Keith and Megan reports on the governor’s State of the State address last night.
No. 656: Nashville Punches Above Its Weight
📅 Today, Davis talks about Nashville’s cultural clout, Miles previews NSC’s 2024 season, and Megan gets us ready for tonight’s State of the State address.
No. 655: Jones Fails to Walk the Line
📅 Today, Davis gives Justin Jones free PR, we visited the Forging Freedom event in Putnam County, and Megan reports on the mayor’s transit initiative.
No. 654: There’s Another Way
📅 Today, Davis lays the ground for Jano Tantongco’s excellent piece on political developments in El Salvador, and Megan talks about efforts to by legislators to push back against federal overreach.

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  • 🤼 The Iron Claw is a Heartland epic. Of course it isn’t an Oscar contender. (Read)
  • ☢️ A small Tennessee town's forgotten history as a nuclear leader (Read)
  • 🤡 Metro Arts launches initiative to 'return land, money, and resources' to 'Indigenous, African, and Asian peoples' (Read)
  • And check out our podcast, YouTube, and article archive for more.