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The Tennessee Duo Was Wrongly Removed From Office While Fighting the Wrong Fight

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/George Walker IV

The two Black state Representatives from Tennessee - let's call them the Tennessee Duo - who was kicked out of the state Legislature earlier this month for breaking rules of order (while protesting in the chamber during a debate on gun legislation) brought back memories.

Protesting wrongs is genuinely what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders did in the 1960s. But, they would have not protested the elimination of ropes and the cutting down of trees to stop the lynching of Black folks by the Ku Klux Klan. They knew that it was due to the hate in the hearts of those evil people. The rope nor the trees were to blame.

Today with the senseless, often random, taking of lives via gun violence, removing any style of gun would not solve the problem. There are 400 million guns in America. Deranged individuals on suicide missions crying for help are severely mentally ill. Last century we built prisons and hired more officers to help address crime. Today we need more individual interventions, counseling, greater awareness, and an increase in mental health professionals.

The Tennessee legislature's actions were wrong and excessive. Congress back in the 1960s attempted to throw out Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, D-NY, for breaking House rules - and briefly, they did. The case went to the Supreme Court. The court ruled that Congress could not remove a member of its body. Only the voters of that person's district could do that. Thus, Powell returned to Congress but was stripped of his seniority.

When you are voted into a bipartisan political body funded by taxpayers, that institution has no right to remove you.

Full disclosure, I was kicked out of one of the best-known congressional caucuses, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). My "crime" was voicing opinions that were different from the other members of the caucus. I was the first Black conservative in Congress and the first Republican voting member of the CBC.

Let us start at the beginning. An enlarged CBC with nearly 40 members attended a White House meeting with former President Bill Clinton. Sitting near the front of the room, I raised my hand repeatedly to pose a question to the president, only to be ignored by the CBC chairman. It became an abbreviated meeting as it was a day after the Vince Foster tragedy. As the chairman was about to end the session and me not have an opportunity to speak, I interrupted the meeting by standing up. I directed my question to the president over the boisterous objection of the chairman. In the corner of my eye, I could see security in the room getting uneasy. Clinton calmed everyone with a slight raising of his arm - as if to say it was all good.

I told the president that I was the GOP chairman of the Welfare Reform Task Force and I wanted to work with the White House on this mission. The president welcomed the comment. He referred me to a key staff person in the room.

Then I voiced my disagreement over the creation of majority-minority congressional districts. "Black candidates can get elected in white districts," I said. After all, I was proof of that, having been elected in a 92% white district.

Clinton said that he would support racially gerrymandered districts in an effort to get more Blacks elected to Congress.

After we returned to the Capitol, a hastily prepared emergency meeting of the CBC was arranged. The singular item on the agenda was a discussion, and they voted to kick me out of the caucus, which they did. I was the only vote in opposition.

The record shows that welfare reform, complete with the establishment of the Debit Card I introduced for recipients, was successful and was a significant achievement of the Clinton administration - even though nearly every member of the CBC opposed it.

The record also shows that the growth of the CBC over the years has not come from members who represent minority districts. Still, instead - I was proven correct - nearly all its growth has come from Black members of Congress who represent majority-white districts.

The CBC has been proven wrong on both counts.

Due to the negative press toward the CBC, I was quickly allowed back into the caucus, though not really welcomed. The same was quickly true for the Tennessee Duo and for the same reasons.

I would like to remind the Tennessee Duo what Dr. King was fighting for during his last days on earth - jobs! The employment practices of companies today are what the 21st-century fight for civil rights should focus on.

The lack of good-paying jobs contributes to the white-Black wealth gap. It is the reason for segregated communities and school systems and heavily contributes to the high crime rates in our cities.

Either taking a person's job away or denying a person a job is like taking a person's life, as quoted in the Bible (Sirach, Chapter 34, verses 25+26). We should work to save or improve the lives of those in the Black community by encouraging the government to enforce employment laws. The federal EEOC has literally been defunded from its 1983 levels.

We trust that employers are treating African Americans fairly, but as former President Ronald Reagan once said about the Russians - "trust but verify."

Young men, pick your battles. Ropes, guns, cars, and trees do not kill people. People do. Civil rights leaders of the 1960s understood this basic fact. On the other hand, fighting for the verification of fair employment practices from employers receiving government money would be a worthwhile fight.

Gary Franks served three terms as U.S. representative for Connecticut's 5th District. He was the first Black Republican elected to the House in nearly 60 years and New England's first Black member of the House. Host: podcast "We Speak Frankly." Author: "With God, For God, and For Country." @GaryFranks


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