Behind the Headlines – May 17, 2019

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Production funding for Behind The Headlines
is made possible in part by: the WKNO production fund, the WKNO Endowment fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – A look back at the
legislative session tonight on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes with
The Daily Memphian. Thanks for joining us. I am joined tonight
by Antonio Parkinson, from the State House,
thanks for being here. – And thanks for having me. – London Lamar, also
from the State House, thank you for being
here for the first time. – Thank you. – Along with Bill Dries, reporter with The
Daily Memphian. We’ll look back at the session. Some of the things
that happened, things that people know
happened, maybe they missed, and what the ramifications
and positive and negative and so on of that will be. A couple quick notes,
we’re taping this because of scheduling issues. We taped this a week
ago from when it aired, and we did reach
out to all the local Republican house members and none of them
were able to come on, so I’ll mention that a
couple times on the show. For right now though
as we sit on Friday, a week ago, from when this airs, the Speaker of the
House is under fire for association with
some text messages and that were misogynistic
and that involved a whole lot of really
difficult behavior. Your thoughts on
that and whether- and he may have
resigned, the pressure, as we sit here taping this, the pressure is building on him from republicans and
democrats for him to resign. But I’ll go onto
you first, London. Your first reaction when
you saw these texts and you saw, I think
they were images. Your first reaction. – I was very shocked, y’know, throughout the session
I worked really hard to build a strong
relationship to the speaker, I had a lot of respect for him even though we disagreed
on a lot of policy issues. So I was very
disappointed to see those were some of the
conversations he had. Not only with his staff member, but that’s how he felt
about many Tennesseans. As a Speaker of the House, you’re obligated to
represent all Tennesseans, no matter if they’re
woman or a man, or black or white or
anything in between, and so we hold our Speaker
to higher standards, and to be the third highest
elected official in the state, I think it’s appalling
that he would think those thoughts about many
Tennesseans in the state. – As, in your interactions
with speaker Casada, did you, as a woman or
an African American, did you ever feel sexism? Did you feel prejudice? Any of that? – Not in our one-on-one
meetings, no. I felt like he respected
me as a legislator, as a colleague, as a equal. We may have differed
on policy issues, but we were able to
respectfully have conversations about our differences and so, I was very disappointed
that behind the scenes, those might have been some
of the thoughts that he had about myself and others. But I never felt like he
showed those to my face, but obviously
those text messages were private conversations
and I think that, as a Speaker of the
House, even whether you push those thoughts in
the public or private, you should not think those
about many Tennesseans that you represent. – And, I assume you
believe he should resign? – As of right now I do
believe he should resign. At first I wanted to
give him opportunity to see what action
plans he would put out, but I think they’re
insufficient, and I think that,
as someone who’s the third highest
ranking elected official in the state, you should
be able to step aside from the Speaker position
and allow someone who can be more inclusive and can represent all people without any prejudiced thoughts. – Let me go me go
to you Antonio. Your reactions to
it, and you’ve been, London, recently elected. You just finished
your first session. You’ve been in there
now, is it eight years? – Eight years. – So you’ve interacted I
assume with Speaker Casada from when he was in
leadership positions he just ascended
into this position. Did you ever experience
prejudice or sexism or any of the kinds of
things that came out in those text messages? – No, no, no. Absolutely not. I’ve never experienced any
of that with Speaker Casada. Here’s the thing for me. One is, we can’t get lost on the fact of how
this all got started. It all got started
because of an email that was sent to the
District Attorney in Davidson County, that
had a date change on it, or possible date change on it and where a young activist
that was from Fisk University, it looks like there
was some differences between the emails that he had versus the email that was
sent to the district attorney, which would have put
him back in jail. – Right, this was by
the chief of staff. – Chief of Staff
of Speaker Casada, and so in all of the
things that is happening with the Speaker, I think that
that part of the injustice in that story is being lost in
all of the Speaker’s things, which is for me as a African
American house member, to see this young
man, who I know, being where it appears that
he may be being framed, possibly, or someone
was making an attempt to have him incarcerated
possibly falsely. I think it’s important
that people remember why and how we got
here, number one. Secondly, in regards
to Speaker Casada, look, I didn’t elect Speaker
Casada to the Speaker’s office, to the Speaker’s position,
I didn’t elect him to the House of Representatives. It was members of his own party that elected him to
the Speaker’s position. It was members of his own
party that elected him as a House member, and
it’s gonna be members of his own party that
either removes him from the Speaker’s office,
or removes him from office. I can say however I wanna
say, however I feel, but at the end of the day, I didn’t vote for
him for Speaker and then I didn’t have
enough votes to keep him from being the Speaker. So it’s interesting to me,
the silence is deafening when it comes to
members of his own party who actually elected
him into that position. – More and more, I mean, to be fair, and I
think you can go online and see either on our site
or on other people’s sites, some of the people,
republicans who are coming out and saying, either
disapproval or outright, he should resign. I think the governor and
the lieutenant governor both said, kind of
couched their phrases as if he were on my staff, I would want him to resign-
that sort of paraphrasing. So, just to be fair. – Right– – And again let me repeat that
we ask republican members, of the Shelby Delegation
to be here today and they couldn’t. – And still, at
the end of the day, you have the Speaker
of the Senate and you have the Governor who
said some veiled comments, nothing direct, as to what
should happen with him. But that’s only a
few out of what, 66 members or 65 members that
could have said something. Let me be clear on this also. When all of the issues
of race and misogyny and all of those things came
forth in these text messages, where were the
members of his party that stand on their
Christian faith, every time you’re in the
house pushing bible verses and this that and the other, where were they in defense
of some of these allegations of race, some of these
allegations of sexism and things of that nature? And so I believe that
it should be pushed back on the people who put
him in that office. – Procedurally, and then
I’ll get Bill in here, maybe Bill you’ll help me. Procedurally, the
session has ended. So to vote him out, they’d
have to call a special session, is that correct? – Right.
– Right. – Am I right on that? – Right. – And then, so he could resign. Now, just to be
more symbolically, because generally the
Speaker-ship ends technically at the end of the
session and he would be most likely real-elected
had this not happened when this session opens again. – But that’s the
end of the two year. – (Antonio)
Right, right right right. – So he is still
speaker throughout. – (London)
Absolutely. – And there’s a lot of work
that’s done in the off-season, right, when they’re
not in session, there are meetings and
everything’s going on. – There is, and it
would take 2/3 call from the membership to
call a special session, or the governor can
call a special session. – Antonio, to your point. If this plays out, that
Speaker Casada leaves, however he leaves,
is there a discussion between democrats
and republicans, kind of a reckoning over
this, that goes beyond him? – And you’re talking about in regards to his
replacement, or– – No, I mean in
regards to his comments and what you called
the deafening silence. – Well there should
be a discussion between democrats and
republicans right now, in regards to the things
that have been said but there has not been. You have a bunch of different
silos of people speaking in regards to this matter,
but you’re not hearing it from his party, the
majority of his party. Now think about it. There have been some that have
come out and said something. But those are people
that didn’t vote for him for Speaker anyway. So, where are the people
that will stand up and grow a set, and speak
out for what’s right? – And I think for me, what was most appalling
was the fact that those who have spoken out, they spoke out
after the allegation of sexual misconduct
have come out. But when we were talking
about the racial issues, about them using the N word, about them framing
a black activist, there was silence. So I’ve started my term
being able to call out some of the issues of
racism among my colleagues because we know
that is a problem and there’s silence about
the issues of racism that I speak or talked about. To me, it confirms
some of the thoughts of some of my colleagues. They do agree with some of
the things that he said, and sometimes when
you are silent, that means you agree with
what he’s doing as well. If we want to be
bold in our approach, if we truly want to
represent all Tennesseans, then we need to speak out on the first
instance of injustice and when we talk about racism, when we talk about calling
black people idiots, many of us are your colleagues who are African American and I think that we’re all
smart and intellectual. – Let me reframe the
question I asked before. There are a lot of
divides n the legislature: republican and democrat,
rural and urban, and so on. Have you felt- and
you’ve been there longer. From anyone, do you feel
racism or do you feel prejudice from your colleagues up
there, explicity or implicity? – Let me be clear. And I’ve been on record
on the House floor, talkin’ about policy
that was racist. When they were takin’ the money from Memphis because
of the removal of the Confederate statues. I got booed on House
floor ’cause of that. But let me say this though, and I don’t want this to be lost on what my young colleague
said just a second ago, when she made her
comments on live, they raked her across the coals
about what she was saying. Now you have these
words that are in text from his Chief of Staff,
and no one from that party that raked her across the coals are saying anything ’bout that– – I don’t know why
I’m focused on this, I just want to for a second. Have you felt, not
so much on the policy and interpreting a
policy as racist, and that we can debate and
discuss, but have you felt that personally,
in personal interactions? – So, so– [cross talk] – Yes, I have. You can feel when someone doesn’t respect the
comments that you have. They’re disrespectful
in their responses to your questions. Laugh at you when you
are bringing up points about how particular
policy effects my community which is predominantly
African American, which I have a obligation
to speak up for, and stand up for,
so yes, it’s there. You can feel it. You can feel it when you
walk down the hallway. Now, they may not call
me out, a name to my face, because that’s not something
I’m sure would be allowed, but at the end of the
day, you know it’s there. Rather it’s invertly
or out in the open, it’s somethin’ that’s real. – There’s also, I will say this just from a
perspective of being up over the last 10, 15
years at the Capital for any kind of news reasons, and also press
association reasons, there’s a tremendous
antipathy towards Memphis. – (London)
Absolutely. So I walk up there as a
50 year old white guy, and I look like, in a lot
of these rural legislators, and I’ll say I’m from Memphis,
and they’ll say I’m sorry. And this happens again,
and this is a story that people who don’t
know the legislature know that that
dynamic is this very, it’s less than it used to be
believe it or not I think, but it’s very real that
there is this antipathy towards Memphis
among legislators– – (London)
Absolutely. – That transcends
race and gender. I’m not taking away
from what you said– – Absolutely. – But it’s an
interesting dynamic. – And it has not. It’s still the same. It’s still the same
just as it was before– – But you obviously are
there much more than me, so I defer to you.
– Right, right. And, the amount of
disrespect towards the city that contributes probably
the majority of the resources to the state coffers. – (London)
Absolutely. – To me is unacceptable, and last year, and last
year or the year before, I joked with the idea of
succession from Davidson county to the Mississippi River,
but you think about it, and I just want people
to think about that. You have the two
biggest contributors to the state coffers, and
both of them are disrespected. Memphis more than
Davidson, right? – But people from Nashville
say the same thing. – Right, right, right, but if you took those away, this would probably be the
poorest state in the union, so that matters. – Half way through the show, and let me also reiterate
for people coming in late, we did ask republicans, local
house republican members to be here and we were
not able to get any on. Bill? – Among the other fireworks
late in the session, was something that
happened on the last day and that was democrats
were leaving the Chamber and there was an attempt
to stop democrats from leaving the chamber. My question is what does
this bode for the future? Is it possible that given the
emotion that’s there right now that could be
there at the start, the reaction to proposals going through a majority
republican legislature are walk-outs a possibility
in your chamber? – So, you have to frame that in the moment that it happened. In the moment there was a couple different
dynamics happening. One, we were
actually in a recess, and so anybody could
walk out in a recess. But now let’s go back just
a little bit more in time, before that. A lot of the republican
members had gone home, because they weren’t staying
for the last day of session. So we’re in a recess, a lot
of their members had gone, and we decide because they
were silencing democrats in regards to health care, that we’re gonna go
and huddle together and talk about it in the recess. Well, when we decided to
go and huddle about it, I think the speaker saw that he might possibly not have a
quorum to finish the business, and so that’s when
the call was made to lock the doors,
secure the doors and keep everyone on the inside, but then by that
time, you got bodies in between the double doors,
legs stickin’ out on one end, I think troopers pushin’
in on the outside and democrats pushin’
out and security tryin’ to hold democrats in, and y’know bodies
start rollin’ up the aisle. So that’s kind of
what happened there. Whether or not…
We fight, that’s what we do. In the House, we fight. Senate is a little
bit different. It’s not as lively as the
dysfunctional House is, and in some aspects a family. A dysfunctional one at
that, but we fight– – A larger family
of 99 members, so– – And 99 boisterous members. [laughing] energetic members. – Who are all elected. – Who are all elected,
may have had some coffee and they’re rarin’ to go. So, you gotta love the House. It’s a very interesting dynamic. – So it was kind of a
convergence of factors that no one planned,
but does it raise the possibility of using
a walk-out as a tool given that whoever’s the speaker needs three democrats in
order to maintain a quorum. – No. Let me tell you why. – Okay. – Because, it takes 50
votes to pass something on House floor. Okay, if you remove 34 of us, if you remove 34 of
our- what are we, 26– – (London)
26. – 26 of us, they still
have enough to pass– – Right. – anything they wanna pass, and so that’s one of the
things that is lost on me. Y’know you have the numbers
to do what you wanna do, so you can be the hero
at every turn, honestly if you in the majority. If we didn’t have republicans
allies on some issues, they could just run, rough-
shod over the whole session and– – Where are those, looking back? Trying to be more
positive for a minute. I mean, you had to have
worked with some republicans, some local or in other states, what are some examples? It’s not all hostilty,
because of what happened with Speaker Casada, some
of those other things, that’s where we started there. – I think– – But there are other points
at which things did get done and we have items,
even $10 million for the river front–
– Right. – Absolutely. – And things that
got done that took, I imagine involved some back
and forth and cooperation. – Absolutely. I think a great
example of that is even though it passed,
the voucher vote. There were both
democrats and republicans who were opposing this
particular piece of legislation, and matter of fact, before the Speaker flexed
his power and held the vote, the vote was failing. The more republicans
helped us defeat this bill, until there were
some conversations to swing another
republican over, but even on simple
education bills about protecting
our public schools, you see republicans and
democrats on the same page working together. There was a bill about
recalling school board members, where both republicans
and democrats had concerns about what
precedents we would set if we were able to recall
school board members for any reason. There are a number of
bills and legislation we can point to to show that
we are working together. And quite honestly, the
majority of legislation, both democrats and
republicans vote together all the time, and
so a lot of times, what you see on TV is the bills where we’re fighting
against each other. Where we’re on opposite sides, or at each other’s heads,
but the majority of the time you see it’s a consenus
green light on the board. Despite our difficulties
and differences of opinions, and we always keep the
fact that we’re working for all people at the
forefront of how we vote in our legislation. I think we have more
alikes than differences. – Bill. – As we’re recording this, the Tennessee Bureau
of Investigation has acknowledged that
it is investigating some of the trades that
were being made for votes on the school voucher bill. – (London)
Absolutely. – The deciding vote
is, as it turns out, voted for it, and he was
very open about this, after Knoxville, the
area that he represents, came out of the voucher bill. Is that kind of deal making, should that be the object
of a criminal investigation? – Abso- I’ll take
it, I’ll go ahead and then I’ll pass it onto you. – Okay. – First of all, absolutely. I think that to hold
the vote for 40 minutes and then be calling people, and some of these folks
you heard him calling up to the well on the
mic, or takin’ him out to the balcony and
having conversations about changing their votes. We obviously know someone
was very firm on a no, and then you have a
conversation with them and they turn to yes, there’s
so discrepancies there that we need to talk about. For us, it is very out in
the open, an abuse of power, and if citizens are explaining that they don’t want something, and you’re pushing,
threatening chairmanships, or whatever that may be in
order to change their vote, that’s unacceptable and
it’s also offensive, especially when it comes
to this voucher vote, to say that, well if it’s
not good for my county, then it’s okay that we
put in on Shelby County, and Davidson Coutny. Even though you’re saying
we don’t want it in ours, but then their key is neither. And that’s problematic
to me because, as legislators, even though we
represent our own districts, we have a obligation to
think about all Tennesseans because the legislation
that we pass, typically affects
all Tennesseans, so to hear our legislators say, well I’m only gonna
pass this bill because it’s gonna
mess up Shelby County, or Davidson County schools,
to me that’s problematic. So for the Speaker and
his republican colleagues to push that, for the
governor to push that, it to me is offensive
and I think what it does is open the doors to tell you that some things are
going on that’s not right. That deals are being made,
and if you’re gonna vote for something just
because it affects one particular population
of kids and not yours, that in itself is criminal. – I don’t know about criminal, but if something was
given in exchange, something probably tangible, was given in exchange
for a vote change or a vote that could be
the criminal part of it. Now if you’re
adjusting legislation to accommodate a
member or some members, that’s just like making
an amendment to the bill, so that’s a normal practice. But here’s the
thing, my colleague, Representative Zachary– – He’s the representative
from Knoxville who switched the– – Right, right. Who switched the vote. He said they took
Knoxville out of it, so that’s what gave him the
go ahead to cast the vote. Well here’s the problem
with that statement. If he’d have voted no,
Knoxville wouldn’t have been in the bill, and so
the bill would’ve died. So Knoxville or no
one, anyone else would’ve been on the bill. I don’t really subscribe
to his reasoning for casting the vote, and
let me make this point too. The reports that I’ve heard, is not TBI that’s
investigating this, FBI, the feds are
investigating this deal. So either one is bad to me and I wouldn’t wish that
on any of my colleagues to be under investigation
by either TBI or FBI. – And this goes back to what I was talking about before about the various divisions and it’s really only Davidson
County and Shelby County that are subject to, we
gotta make that clear. With just a couple minutes left, let me just walk through
a couple of nitty bills that got through, that
got a lot of attention. We talked about vouchers
and where that’s going. Online gambling, that passed, so now there’ll be sports
betting allowed on phones and computers and so
on, within Tennessee. I think both of y’all
were in favor with that. – Right. Yes. – What do you wanna
see come from that, and do you want that
to be the first step towards full blown legalized
gambling in Shelby County? – I voted for it in support because I think with
heavy regulation, it’s happening anyway, and
I would rather Tennessee be able to use some
of those dollars that come from gambling
to support education and other initiatives
to help our community. You know, you see a
lot of our citizens aren’t engaged in gambling. They’re either
takin’ their dollars across the bridge to Arkansas, or down the road to
Tunica, Mississippi and I would rather our
dollars stay in our state, and so that was why
I supported the bill. – Will you support
further expansion, I mean brick and
mortar they say, casinos in Tennessee,
Shelby County, would you support
that sort of bill? – I’m open to it. I’m open to it. – With just a
couple minutes left, another bill that
passed was expungements- the $180 expungement
fee was removed. It’s a criminal justice issue that actually I
think more and more democrats and republicans
are coming together on some of those issues. Talk about that expungement. – Well, well real quick, I know we’re short on time. First of all, our
republican colleages had gotten the
marching istructions from some of their
people who give them marching instructions,
some of the organizations, to incarcerate everybody. And so mass incarceration
was goin’ on, and now it’s busted the
coffers of the budgets. So now they’ve
changed face and said, hey, we shouldn’t be
incarcerating everyone, so let’s find a way to
keep people out of– – And some would say to be fair, because–
– Right, right. – Many would say i’ts
not just the budget, it’s also the realization
that it’s wrong. For a lot of people it goes
back to Christian faith and forgiveness and so on, so just pushback
a little bit on– – Just to pushback
on you a little– – Just about money.
I know it’s– Okay, all right. – They were Christians
before that. – Right. – And so, it didn’t
become a conversation, honestly in my eight years, I’ve been fighting for
criminal justice reform since Day 1, in my
8 years, it did not become a conversation until
it became a budgetary issue, and it’s unfortunate
but we’re lookin’ at it from a humanitarian standpoint. They’re looking at it
from a fiscal standpoint. I don’t care what their
reason for lookin’ at it is, let’s get it done. We got this $180 off of there, but there’s still fees locally
that people have to do, so. – All right, thank you. Thank you both for being here. Thank you Bill, and
thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]