Republicans advance bills to take over Democratic city government


The Republican-controlled Mississippi legislature passed legislation last week that creates a separate unelected court system and expands Capitol Police authority in Jackson.

Unelected judges

House Bill 1020 would allow white, statewide officials to appoint their own judges to a new criminal justice court in America’s second Blackest city. Specifically, the bill tasks Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph—a staunch conservative—with staffing the new court (called the Capitol Complex Improvement District or CCID), as well as with picking five judges to serve alongside the four elected judges already on the Hinds County Circuit Court bench. The state’s white attorney general, Lynn Fitch—who argued that Mississippi had “purged any taint” of racism from the state’s Jim Crow-era voting laws—would be responsible for appointing prosecutors to serve in the CCID.

Rep. Christopher Bell, D-Jackson, said the bill would effectively create a city within a city.

“The next thing I see coming out of this legislation, 1020, if it passes, is that will they start now to next year introduce a city council for the capital city complex and a city manager for the capitol city complex? Is that next? Is it needed?” Bell said…

Johnson particularly spoke against an aspect of the bill that would allow the CCID inferior court, which would only try misdemeanors and preliminary aspects of felony cases, to send convicted individuals to prisons run by the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Municipal courts, which the CCID court has been compared to in scope, send those convicted of misdemeanors to local jails…Johnson said that whether someone ends up in prison for a minor offense could be decided by racial biases within the judicial system, particularly since the judge hearing the case would not be elected.

“The reason it bothers me so much (is) because I know how selective jurors can be, jurists can be, and see I’m Black,” Johnson said. “I know y’all can see that. And there’s a jurist, there’s a judge in this city, that may be appointed by a CCID court, that would look at me and say, ‘Maybe you need a night in prison.'”

Rep. Edward Blackmon, D-Canton, spoke against the bill, pointing out that concerns about “crime” are being used to justify a white conservative takeover of an 82% Black city:

“Only in Mississippi would we have a bill like this, with our history, where you say solving the problem is taking the vote away from Black people because we don’t know how to choose our leaders. That’s the problem. And the Trojan Horse that has been brought forward in this bill is called crime,” Blackmon said. “I’m old enough to know and understand that the right to vote has not always been ours, and perhaps I’m a little more sensitive to the idea that that vote can be taken away.”

Expanding police

An accompanying bill also passed Friday would expand the authority of the Capitol Police, typically limited to state government buildings, to patrol and make arrests throughout the entire city. Senate Bill 2343 would essentially impose a double-policing regime on Jackson, giving Capitol Police—a state-backed entity with no accountability to the city’s residents and no oversight board—free reign alongside the Jackson Police Department.

Rep. Zakiya Summers, D-Jackson, said her white colleagues cannot understand the fear that Black parents have for their children interacting with police. She has three young sons, Marvin, Mavis and Mathis.

“I don’t know if you really understand what police do to Black communities,” Summers said. “When you go home from this body and lay in your bed at night, I want Marvin, Mavis and Mathis to be on your mind.”

Summers also said that the bill defies traditional conservative principles like limited government and spending.

“This is about spending millions of dollars to create a police state,” Summers said. “When we tell you that there are going to be negative racial consequences in terms of policy, why don’t you believe us?”

Rep. Summers’ concerns aren’t unfounded. The Capitol Police have shot at least four people in Jackson since last year.

In one of them, a 25-year-old father of two was shot in the head during what police described as a response to a traffic violation. In another, a 49-year-old woman was struck in the arm by an officer’s bullet during a chase that police say began with officers’ attempts to pull over a suspected stolen car. Citing pending investigations, the agency has released no information that explains how or why most of the shootings occurred, leaving the public and families of those who were injured or killed largely in the dark.

The Mississippi Capitol Police does not require its officers to wear body cameras, a standard piece of equipment for American law enforcement that allows deeper understanding of officers’ use of force. ([Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean] Tindell has said the agency requested the budget to buy cameras but has not received funding.) The department also operates outside of the city’s control, answering to Tindell, who was appointed by the governor.

Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey blames citizens for the officer-involved shootings. “We have had a spike in this area of officer-involved shootings,” he said. “But I attribute that to that portion of the community, which is a very small portion, that’s just not used to being proactively policed.”


The Republican-controlled Tennessee legislature passed a bill last month to cut the size of Nashville Metro Council in half, hindering the city’s ability to govern itself. Now, the conservative majority is moving to expel three Democratic lawmakers for supporting gun control protesters.


House Bill 48, which passed the state House and Senate along party lines, caps all metropolitan legislative bodies in the state at 20 members. Though the language doesn’t specifically mention Nashville, it is the only council that has more than 20 members. As a result, Nashville’s 40 elected representatives were cut in half when Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill into law on March 9.

The Metro Council is a diverse body: “a quarter of the council’s seats are held by Black members, half are held by women and five identify as LGBTQ.”

“This will set us back decades,” said Democratic Sen Charlane Oliver, a Black lawmaker from Nashville. “This will disproportionately impact the Black representation, the minority representation and dilute — not just dilute — it will steal and silence our voices.”

Republican lawmakers pushed forward with the bill despite warnings that it violates the state constitution:

Metro Nashville Law Director Wally Dietz said the bills as passed “contain several serious legal defects which will make them impossible to legally implement” in a statement following Thursday’s vote.

Dietz reiterated concerns shared by Nashville Mayor John Cooper in a letter to state leaders Monday: There is not enough time to transition to 20 or fewer council districts before Nashville’s Aug. 3 election, and key portions of the bills violate the state constitution. Both issues would mire the city in significant legal risks, Cooper and Dietz stated, but attempts to point out legal defects to the legislature and state leaders have been “largely ignored.”

“The inevitable result of the council bill will be deep uncertainty that is bad for government and bad for business,” Cooper wrote in the letter obtained by The Tennessean…

The bill is widely viewed as the General Assembly’s retaliation against the 40-member Metro Council after it blocked an effort for Nashville to bid on hosting the 2024 Republican National Convention, a move that sparked significant ire among legislative Republicans.

House Bill 48 also directly overrides the will of Nashville residents as expressed in a 2015 referendum in which they overwhelmingly voted to maintain the size of the Metro Council.

Meanwhile, Republican bills advancing through the legislature would also eliminate funding for Nashville’s convention center and remove Nashville’s authority to govern its own airport.

It is worth noting, too, that Republican lawmakers already gerrymandered the congressional map to split Democratic Nashville into three reliably Republican districts, eliminating the city’s chosen Democratic representative. The previous 5th district was carried by President Joe Biden by 24 points; the new 5th district would have been won by Donald Trump by 12 points in 2020. Furthermore, the new district breaks up Black voters, diluting their votes by including more rural, white voters.

Expelling lawmakers

Three Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee were stripped of their campaign assignments and are now on the verge of being expelled from the state House for joining protests against gun violence.

Thousands of parents and students traveled to the state capitol building on Thursday to demand stronger gun control following the school shooting at Covenant School that left three children and three adults dead. The protesters loudly but peacefully confronted lawmakers as they arrived at the building.

Later in the legislative session, Reps. Justin Jones (Nashville), Justin J. Pearson (Memphis), and Gloria Johnson (Knoxville) approached the podium without being recognized to speak and, using a bullhorn, led protesters in the galleries in several chants calling for gun reform.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) immediately recessed the chamber and ordered security to clear the House galleries. He later compared the three Democratic lawmakers’ actions to the January 6th insurrection:

“Two of the members, Representative Jones and Representative Johnson, have been very vocal about January 6 in Washington D.C., about what that was, and what they did today was equivalent, at least equivalent, maybe worse depending on how you look at it, of doing an insurrection in the capitol.”

A final vote to expel the members will occur today. The three lawmakers represent Tennessee’s three most populous cities and the two bluest areas in the state.

Note that former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada (R) was charged with bribery, fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering yet the Republican majority did not expel him from the legislature.


Texas Republican lawmakers are considering bills to strip the state’s most populous blue county, Harris County, of its rights to run its own elections. At the same time, state officials are taking over Texas’s largest school district in Houston, which also happens to be attended by a large Black and Hispanic population.

Seizing control of elections

Senate Bill 1750, introduced by Harris County Republican Sen. Paul Bettencourt, would abolish the office of elections administrator in all populous Texas counties (over 1 million people), transferring the responsibility to the county tax assessor-collector and county clerk.

[Texas Southern University Professor Michael] Adams said that, when it comes to large counties, if often makes more sense to have a full-time, appointed official overseeing elections rather than having the functions split between two elected officials who have multiple other duties.

“I think this is just a partisan food fight between the two parties in terms of it’s targeted at Harris County,” Adams said, “and it’s all part and parcel of what we’ve seen in terms of what the Republicans are saying now, that their votes are being suppressed based on things that happened within the Election Administrator’s Office.”

Senate Bill 823, also introduced by Bettencourt, would give the Republican secretary of state the power to suspend a county elections administrator if, during an election, voting system equipment malfunctions or election results are delayed. The secretary of state can then appoint their own elections administrator.

The League of Women Voters of Texas:”There are growing concerns in the voting rights community that the State will use these election challenges as an excuse to advance bills filed that would allow the Secretary of State to take over certain county elections where there may be a minimal finding of problems, and in particular in Harris County. Such legislation, if passed, is fraught for potential abuse, infringes on the rights of county governments to select their own elections administrator, and demeans the meaning of local governance.

“The Harris County voters have spoken in the 2022 election, and the election results have been certified. It is time for politicians to respect the election results and to work with County Election Administrators to have the resources they need to run effective, efficient, accessible, and fair elections.”

Senate Bill 1993, introduced by Galveston Republican Sen. Mayes Middleton, would grant the Republican secretary of state the authority to order a new election in Harris County (or any of the four other large Texas counties) “if the secretary has good cause to believe that at least two percent of the total number of polling places in the county did not receive supplemental ballots.”

The bill would “allow really low thresholds” for ordering a new election, Katya Ehresman, the voting rights program manager at Common Cause Texas, told TPM. “Anything from a machine malfunction, which can necessarily be the fault of the county or of an election administrator getting stuck in traffic—which in Houston is incredibly likely—and having a delay in providing election results to the central count station,” she said…“A lot of what we see is Harris County as an example of a need to invest in election administration and not penalize or detract from it,” Ehresman said.

Despite not naming Harris County, home to Houston, specifically, all three bills target the Democratic stronghold on the false pretense that it was ground zero for voter fraud in the 2020 election.

School district takeover

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration announced last month that it will take over the Houston Independent School District (HISD), ousting its superintendent and the elected board of trustees. Education commissioner Mike Morath, chosen by Abbott, will have the ability to appoint his own officials to the positions.

Abbott and Morath justify the move by citing the district’s past poor performance, but discount its recent improvements. The single high school, Phillis Wheatley High, that Morath uses as an example of the “failing” district raised its grade to a passing C last year. It is no mystery why Wheatley struggled with reaching the state’s performance metrics; it is chronically underfunded (as are most schools in Texas) and serves an impoverished populace. 96% of Wheatley students financially qualify for a free lunch program. The student body also happens to be nearly entirely Black and Hispanic.

According to the Texas Tribune, 94% of schools in the state’s largest school district were given an A, B, or C grade last year, while HISD as a whole earned a B.

The takeover should be a concern for superintendents around the state, especially those in large urban districts, said David DeMatthews, associate professor the University of Texas Department of Educational Leadership and Policy…“If HISD has made improvements, the state should be backing away right now and it’s doing the opposite,” DeMatthews said….

Democratic lawmakers worry the takeover could have implications for other Texas school districts, especially those in large urban areas. And some cast it as part of a push by conservative Republicans to remake education across the country.

“It’s a national movement,” said state Rep. Alma Allen, a Democrat who represents a swath of southern Houston and is vice chairwoman of the House Public Education committee. “The Republicans are planning to take over education in the United States.” […]

“We’re really very pissed off, quite frankly,” said Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Democrat and chairman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. “Enough is enough.”

Reynolds is worried the takeover will mean less representation for students of color in Houston, he said.

“This is an upfront power grab,” Reynolds said. “This is an attempt to push vouchers, to promote and push the things Gov. Abbott cares about.”