Why TN's GOP must condemn 4 state legislators who voted against abolishing slavery

Mar 17, 2021 at 10:00 am by Brendon Donoho


It is not uncommon in the slightest for Tennessee legislators to find themselves on the wrong side of history. The majority of the Tennessee Republican Caucus, and by their majority the entire legislative body, makes quite the habit of relentlessly searching for the wrong side of history of and rushing to it.

Be it legislating transphobia, opposing desperately needed Medicaid expansion, or routinely stripping protesters of every basic right imaginable, there has seemed, for quite some time, to be no rock bottom for Tennessee Republicans.

On Monday, however, all but four of them did find a depth to which they would not sink: supporting slavery. While the party is prepared to impeach its own governor for daring not to honor the memory of a slave-owner and traitor, it seems that nearly all Tennessee Republicans do, at least, support the abolition of slavery in the year 2021.

All of them, that is, except the four who took their brave stand on Monday to vote against abolishing slavery in our state. Those four State Senators are Joey Hensley, Janice Bowling, Brian Kelsey, and Frank Nicely. This is utterly despicable.

At least three of the four (I've found no evidence for Nicely receiving contributions from CoreCivic) have taken significant campaign contributions from private prison giant CoreCivic in past years, which doubtless colored their decision. Nonetheless, CoreCivic has bought off the majority of the Tennessee GOP with their bribes, and still the majority of the party couldn't possibly denigrate themselves and their careers so much as to vote against the abolition of slavery. No, only Hensley, Bowling, Kelsey, and Nicely can claim that distinction.

What does this say about the rest of the party, though? What does it say about the GOP that they would harbor, within their ranks, a set of politicians who are so flagrantly callous that not even slavery is too far for them? This must be the question that must be asked of every single Republican across the state for years to come if Hensley, Bowling, Kelsey, and Nicely are not roundly condemned and ousted from the caucus.

How can Shane Reeves or Dawn White possibly come to Murfreesboro seeking our votes when we know that members of their own party have voted to keep our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, in the chains of involuntary servitude? How can a party survive as a serious political body when it is so morally bankrupt that it would allow even a single vote for such an atrocity.

Remember, as I have discussed in previous pieces, slavery is far from outlawed in the United States or even in the state of Tennessee. This is not some symbolic vote.

The vote on SJR 80 was a vote on the morality of slavery in the 21st century. It was a question as to whether we would continue to stand by as our neighbors, our family members, our friends are arrested and enslaved to work long hours for no pay in private and state prisons.

It was, and I cannot stress this enough, a vote to abolish slavery. Four Republicans chose to vote against that effort. If the Republican Party does not condemn and oust them, then they have lost all legitimacy as a party.

What can we do? Contact each and every State Senator and Representative in our area and demand that they publicly condemn the votes of their colleagues. Contact Dawn White, Shane Reeves, Bryan Terry, Mike Sparks, Charlie Baum, and Tim Rudd and make the question incredibly clear.

Do you stand with your colleagues who support slavery?

This is the question that the Tennessee Republican Party is now forced to answer.

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