Polarization means punishment for minority party lawmakers

Apr 26, 2023, 2:28 PM | Updated: 5:24 pm

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, walks out of the Montana House of Representatives after lawmakers vo...

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, walks out of the Montana House of Representatives after lawmakers voted to ban her from the chamber on Wednesday, April 26, 2023, in the State Capitol in Helena, Montana. Zephyr was barred from participating on the House floor as Republican leaders voted Wednesday to silence her for the rest of 2023 session after she protested GOP leaders’ decision earlier in the week to silence her. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)

(Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana transgender lawmaker Zooey Zephyr was silenced by her Republican colleagues on Wednesday in a vote that bars her from participating on the House floor for the remainder of the 2023 session.

The crackdown followed a standoff between Montana Democrats and Republicans after Zephyr told Republican colleagues in the House they would “see the blood” on their hands if they banned gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.

It’s the latest harsh punishment meted out to an outspoken lawmaker by colleagues in state legislatures. Here are other examples.



Republicans voted Democratic Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson out of their offices for taking to the front of the Tennessee House and chanting with gun control supporters who packed the gallery after a Nashville school shooting that killed six people last month, including three children.

Expulsions in the Tennessee General Assembly are extremely rare and typically center on criminal activity.

The pair were joined a fellow Democrat, Rep. Gloria Johnson, in standing with demonstrators calling for stronger gun restrictions — particularly a ban on so-called assault weapons. Only Pearson and Jones, who are both Black, were expelled by the Republican-controlled legislature. Johnson, who is white, was not.

Pearson and Jones have since been reinstated by local officials, returning them to their positions on an interim basis. The state has set Aug. 3 as the special election date for their seats, preceded by a June 15 primary election. Both lawmakers have said they intend to run.

Jones, Pearson and Johnson met with President Joe Biden at the White House on Monday.



Last month, Oklahoma Republicans formally censured a nonbinary Democratic colleague after state troopers said the lawmaker blocked them from questioning a transgender rights activist accused of assaulting a police officer during a protest over anti-trans legislation.

The party-line vote removed Rep. Mauree Turner, who uses they/them pronouns, from all committee assignments. Turner could have kept the positions by issuing a formal apology, including to the Highway Patrol, which provides security at the Capitol complex.

“I think an apology for loving the people of Oklahoma is something that I cannot do,” said Turner, the first openly nonbinary and Muslim person elected to the Legislature in Oklahoma.

Recent efforts by the GOP-controlled Oklahoma Legislature to prohibit gender-affirming medical care for trans children and pass other anti-trans legislation have led to demonstrations at the Capitol. One protest in March became heated when a protester was accused of pouring water on a state representative and scuffling with a trooper before being arrested.

Officers eventually questioned and arrested the activist, who was inside Turner’s legislative office.

Turner, who is Black and represents a diverse constituency that includes Oklahoma City, said one of their goals is making sure all people are welcome at the Capitol.



Earlier this month, the Arizona House of Representatives expelled a Republican lawmaker who organized a presentation making unsubstantiated accusations that a wide range of politicians, judges and public officials of both parties took bribes from a Mexican drug cartel.

Rep. Liz Harris, a prominent supporter of discredited election conspiracies, was kicked out of the Legislature in a bipartisan vote. The lawmaker’s ouster came a day after the House Ethics Committee determined Harris had engaged in “disorderly behavior” in violation of the chamber’s rules.

The committee’s report said Harris knew the person she invited to a legislative hearing in February would accuse her colleagues of criminal activity without any proof, that she took steps to hide it from House leaders ahead of time and then misled the committee investigating her actions.

Rep. David Livingston, a Republican who voted to expel Harris, said the integrity of the institution was at stake.

Harris, who was sworn into her first term in January, did not speak ahead of the expulsion vote. Immediately afterward, she carried boxes to her car, placed them in her trunk with the help of a handful of supporters and left. She called the ethics report “a lie.”

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Polarization means punishment for minority party lawmakers