Pa. Legislature should see Tennessee expulsions as cautionary tale

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (AP)

The Pennsylvania Legislature is no stranger to dissension.

The state isn’t Democratic or Republican, after all. It isn’t even a muddled, muted purple. It is a patchwork of red and blue by county and city. That pattern is repeated in the House and Senate chambers.

And that can lead to mulish opposition. It can mean obstinate obstruction. It can even result in explosive outbursts during legislative sessions.

Justin Pearson celebrates with supporters after being reinstated to the Tennessee House of Representatives by the Shelby County Board of Commissioners building in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Republicans expelled Pearson and Rep. Justin Jones last week over their role in a gun control protest on the House floor.  (Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal via AP)

MORE:In Tennessee, expelled lawmakers remind a nation what political bravery looks like

MORE:Tennessee’s House expels 2 of 3 Democrats over guns protest

That has happened more than once in Harrisburg.

In June 2019, state Sen. Katie Muth, D-Montgomery County, continued to loudly read a constituent’s letter over the objections of then-Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, who shouted his protests to then-Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. That ugly and chaotic exchange made national news.

On Jan. 5, 2021, another outburst came when Fetterman and Corman clashed over the seating of Jim Brewster when now-Westmoreland County District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli was contesting the vote count in their close race for the 45th District.

But in Tennessee on Thursday, three Democratic House members were put up for expulsion, charged with participating in a “disorderly” demonstration with throngs of young protesters in the wake of The Covenant School shooting in Nashville. Two of them — the two youngest members of the House, both men of color — were voted out. The third — a white woman and former teacher — survived by one vote.

If there wasn’t already dissension between left and right in Tennessee, between guns, abortion and LGBTQ issues, this has pushed the idea of not just fighting political opposition but kicking them out of the conversation. The GOP lawmakers insist the move was just about rules of decorum, not debate.

Now, there are questions about whether what happened in that state House could spread to others.

Pennsylvania has removed lawmakers in the past — rarely. However, when it has happened, it has generally been because of criminal activity. We should all agree that is appropriate.

But the Keystone State should never be ashamed of having differing opinions. It should never seek to squelch the thoughts of the other side.

Our government is built on not just the representation of the people but also on the exchange, development and full-throated debate of ideas. It makes the laws better and the state better. It even makes the parties better.

We don’t want shouting matches and disrespect. We don’t want disregard of the rules. But the rules encourage everyone having a say and everyone participating in the process. The Pennsylvania Legislature — and every government body in the state — should watch what happened in Tennessee and resolve to be better.

— From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (AP).