AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
Just a few weeks after a media firestorm over Republicans in the Tennessee legislature expelling two Democrat lawmakers for breaking House rules and obstructing a legislative session, the liberal establishment is once again apoplectic following Montana Republicans’ censure of a Democrat who also broke decorum and aided in a demonstration that disrupted official proceedings. In both cases, the media and national Democrats have fully embraced the lawmakers’ portrayal of themselves as persecuted victims despite the fact that they broke clearly defined rules, only encouraging more frustrated Democrats to follow suit.
On Wednesday, April 19, Montana State Rep. Zooey Zephyr, a Democrat from Missoula, lashed out at his colleagues during debate over Senate Bill 99, which bans puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and transgender surgery for minors. Zephyr, a man who identifies as a woman, told lawmakers who supported the bill that he hopes “when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”
In response, Speaker Matt Regier and House Republican leadership announced that they would refuse to recognize Zephyr to speak until he issued an apology for an “unprecedented and personal attack” on other lawmakers.
Things escalated further last week when protestors disrupted House proceedings after a vote to uphold the gag order on Zephyr. When asked to clear the chamber to restore order, Zephyr instead remained at his seat, holding his microphone up to the protestors.
Two days later, on April 26, the Montana House then voted to bar Zephyr from attending or speaking at floor sessions for the remainder of the legislative session, which ends on Friday. Notably, Zephyr will still be able to vote remotely on bills.
On Monday, Zephyr announced that he is suing the state of Montana, Speaker Regier, and even the Sergeant at Arms over his censure.
Zephyr’s censure came less than a month after Tennessee Republicans voted to expel two state House Democrats, Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis, for participating in anti-Second Amendment protests inside the state capitol, in violation of House rules.
On March 31, Jones, Pearson, and a third Democrat, Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, went to the House floor unrecognized and produced a bullhorn, proceeding to lead protestors in the gallery in a series of chants. The unlawful demonstration prevented the House from conducting any business until the protestors were cleared.
A week later, on April 7, the Tennessee House voted to remove Jones and Pearson for their actions (Johnson narrowly escaped the same fate after she pleaded with Republicans not to expel her because she did not raise her voice or use the bullhorn). However, both Jones and Pearson were quickly re-appointed to the House by their respective city councils and will likely go on to win special elections this fall.
Immediately following both the Tennessee and Montana incidents, the Democrat lawmakers involved became sensations on the left. Dozens of stories flooded news feeds detailing the supposedly “shocking” and “unprecedented” “silencing” of elected representatives.
USA Today called Zephyr a “hero,” while The Washington Post published a glowing profile on him. The “Tennessee three” enjoyed even more lavish treatment, including an invite to the White House and a special appearance on “Good Morning America.” An MSNBC panel even explicitly compared Jones’s reinstatement to the resurrection of Jesus, calling it an “Easter miracle.”
The media also attacked the Republicans involved in both cases, accusing them of being “threats to democracy.” In an ostensibly “objective” explainer piece on the Tennessee case, the New York Times called the lawmakers’ expulsion “a dramatic act of political retribution” and an “extraordinary punitive action.” The Associated Press echoed that language, calling it “an extraordinary act of political retaliation.” Forbes, meanwhile, declared that censuring Zephyr was an example of “cancel culture towards officials who speak out on social issues.”
This is all, of course, despite the fact that it was the Democrats who were punished who literally halted the functioning of democracy and broke the rules of the institutions in which they served. The media and national Democrat figures characterized the lawmakers’ actions as legitimate political protest – ignoring the reality that those actions were clearly intended to disrupt the lawmaking process.
In both cases, this was legitimized by the liberal establishment. Following the Tennessee incident, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and four other Senate Democrats wrote a letter to Merrick Garland asking him to investigate the Tennessee House. While admitting that the lawmakers “challenged procedural rules governing decorum and good behavior,” the senators argued that this was acceptable because “the repeated and preventable slaughter of our children should frustrate and disrupt decorum.”
In other words, as the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board aptly observed, “The Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate is publicly arguing that if partisans feel passionately enough about a policy issue, they are justified in disrupting legislative proceedings by force.”
The Zooey Zephyr case is no different. Democrats did not have the votes to enact their preferred agenda via the legislative process – in this case opposition to a Republican bill protecting children from harmful and medically unnecessary treatments and surgeries – and so they resorted to mob intimidation in an attempt to frustrate the democratic process.
Once again, the left asserted that Zephyr’s words and actions were justified because they were in defense of a cause they agree with. Nowhere to be found in the sea of liberal outrage was any consideration of the fact that Zephyr was attempting to delay and derail a bill supported by a large majority of Montana’s representatives, who in turn represented a large majority of Montana voters.
Regardless, Zephyr, Jones, Pearson, and Johnson have appeared to soak it all in, by all accounts enjoying the trappings of their newfound stardom. From toiling in relative obscurity in GOP-dominated state legislatures, suddenly they are the subject of national headlines.
Given the obvious incentives to cause chaos for media attention and clicks online, it should be altogether unsurprising if more such incidents occur in the near future. In a political party where victimhood is the most valuable currency, making a martyr of oneself is a tantalizing prospect indeed.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_.
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