Axios Nashville

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October 04, 2023

Happy Wednesday.

Today's newsletter is 829 words — a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Rep. Justin Jones sues Speaker Sexton

Rep. Justin Jones speaks prior to a vote to expel him, with Speaker Cameron Sexton looking over his shoulder, at a House meeting in April. Photo: Seth Herald/Getty Images

State Rep. Justin Jones accused House Speaker Cameron Sexton of suppressing his right to free speech in a federal lawsuit filed in Nashville yesterday.

Why it matters: The lawsuit escalates the bitter feud between a young Democrat with a growing national profile and one of the most powerful Republicans in state government.

State of play: Sexton has repeatedly blocked Jones from expressing his views, namely on the issue of gun violence, according to the lawsuit.

  • Jones was expelled from the House in a partisan vote after he and two other House Democrats took a bullhorn to the well of the House floor to call for gun control measures in the wake of the Covenant School shooting.
  • Although he was reappointed and then re-elected to his old seat, Jones has not been reinstated to his previous committee assignments.

House Republicans also instituted rules surrounding debate for the special legislative session on public safety in August.

  • During the special session, Sexton cut Jones off while he was debating school safety bills. Sexton said Jones was violating rules because he was veering away from the topic of the legislation.

What he's saying: Jones argues in his lawsuit that those actions by Sexton amounted to "censorship," which he says "violates the constitutions of Tennessee and of the United States and is an anathema to a free, democratic society."

  • Jones is asking the federal court to declare Sexton's actions illegal and to prevent Sexton from curbing his free speech in the future.
  • The lawsuit also names legislative staffers as defendants for their roles in carrying out Sexton's orders.
  • Jones is represented by attorneys Jerry Martin and Dave Garrison as well as the Washington, D.C., firm Covington & Burling.

The other side: According to the lawsuit, Sexton told Jones the reason he has not been given committee assignments is because he was re-elected to his seat after the end of the regular legislative session in April.

  • As of late yesterday, Sexton had not responded to a request for comment.

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2. Ben Crump talks underfunding at TSU

Ben Crump

Ben Crump. Photo: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for National Urban League

During a visit to Tennessee State University yesterday, civil rights attorney Ben Crump floated the possibility of legal action if state lawmakers don't address a federal analysis showing the school had been underfunded by $2.1 billion.

  • The analysis found "a severe financial gap" at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country.

Driving the news: Crump told reporters he came to TSU to meet with students and discuss their legal options regarding the funding shortfall. He mentioned that students at an HBCU in Florida sued over underfunding.

  • But he indicated the first step would be to push Tennessee's General Assembly to resolve the problem.

Catch up quick: Federal law requires that states fund their public land-grant institutions equitably. But federal officials said last month that TSU and many other public HBCUs did not get as much funding per student compared to their predominantly white peer institutions.

  • The analysis found Tennessee's two land grant institutions — TSU and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville — had received lopsided state funding.
  • Because TSU got less per student, the officials said, it missed out on opportunities to add staff, improve campus infrastructure and compete for research grants.

What he's saying: Crump said it was important to "challenge every legislature in every state" to address the deficits uncovered by the federal review.

  • "Hopefully, preferably, they will address it. However, these students wanted to know their legal options."
  • "Whether we will bring legal action as students in Florida have done is really up to the legislature."

Flashback: Gov. Bill Lee and lawmakers previously addressed a different funding shortfall at TSU with a historic influx of money in 2022. TSU students said they were hopeful state leaders would come together in a similar way this time.

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3. The Setlist

Illustration of a neon sign in the shape of an arrow reading "THE SETLIST."

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🐘 U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, who represents the Knoxville area, was among the House Republicans who voted yesterday to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy. (Axios)

ğŸ”Ž Nashville's Community Oversight Board, which serves as a watchdog of the police department, will be abolished by the end of the month and replaced by a review committee in compliance with a state law passed earlier this year. (Nashville Banner)

🏳️‍🌈 Stephanie Mahnke was named the new executive director of the Tennessee Pride Chamber, which was formerly known as the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce. (Nashville Business Journal)

4. Monopoly goes country

Photo: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Music City officially has its own version of Monopoly loaded with local landmarks, including The Parthenon, the Grand Ole Opry and Radnor Lake.

  • The Nashville-specific board game was unveiled yesterday and is for sale now.

State of play: The Ryman Auditorium and the Batman Building got the ultimate prize of replacing the Boardwalk and Park Place marquee spaces.

The intrigue: The game drew on resident suggestions to fill out the famous squares. Many referenced tourist-friendly staples. But there were a few interesting choices.

  • For one, Broadway and Lower Broad got separate spaces, but both had pictures of the neon signs of Lower Broadway.

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Nate and Adam's mamas told them when they were young, "Forget your lust for the rich man's gold. All that you need is in your soul. And you can do this, oh, baby, if you try. All that I want for you, my son, is 'NEVER MISSPELL THE BAND NAME LYNYRD SKYNRD.'"

  • Tuesday may be gone with the wind, but Nate and Adam are still feeling awful they misspelled Lynyrd Skynyrd in yesterday's newsletter.

This newsletter was edited by Jen Ashley and copy edited by Katie Lewis.