“The Tennessee Democratic Party has decided that a 26-year Representative that spent 12 years as a committee chairman, conducted himself with integrity, served the party well, sponsored meaningful legislation and built bridges across the aisle to get bills passed is no longer a Democrat. And so, I’m not,” said Memphis District 90 representative, John DeBerry, after state Democrats voted on April 8th to remove him from the upcoming August 6th Democratic primary ballot.
“After a long meeting in which we heard challenges and evidence, we did what we thought was best to protect the Tennessee Democratic Party and the values we stand for,” explained Tennessee Democratic Party chair Mary Mancini.
DeBerry was accused by Democratic Party activists of accepting campaign donations “from groups that typically donate to Republicans.”
The vote against DeBerry by the party’s executive committee was 41 to 18 with two abstentions. Responding to the vote, DeBerry repined:
“They changed their values, they changed their values and demanded everyone acquiesce… That’s not democracy. They don’t have the right to tell a sitting legislator how to vote.”
He also protested the way the meeting was handled. “The party’s primary board meetings are subject to the open meetings act, but the meeting was not publicly noticed,” the Commercial Appeal reported. DeBerry lamented:
“What happened yesterday was basically unprecedented… Without notice, without warning, without time to garner a defense or allow people from my district to make any type of comment, I was removed by a tribunal.”
However, state Democratic Party spokesperson, Emily Cupples, insisted that “the meeting did not have to be noticed due to Gov. Gov. Bill Lee’s “executive order relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.” [As noted by the Commercial Appeal, Lee’s order relaxed regulations around public meetings — allowing some to be held virtually, for example — public notification of meetings is still required.”]
John DeBerry, a socially conservative democrat and black minister in the Church of Christ, has a long history of bipartisan voting in the Tennessee legislature which, according to the Commercial Appeal, includes “votes to further restrict abortion access. He said in March 2019 that a lack of ‘personal responsibility’ had contributed to the number of abortions taking place. He had just voted in support of a controversial bill banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected.”
Additionally, DeBerry voted in support of school voucher legislation last year which, the Commercial Appeal reported, prompted “House Democrats at the time to discuss potential repercussions for him.”
On Wednesday, the Tennessee Democratic Party State Executive Committee reaffirmed their vote against DeBerry “after an appeal proceeding in a 40-21 vote with one abstention.”
According to the Commercial Appeal, DeBerry “said before the vote it should be up to the voters of his district to decide if he no longer represented their interests and the interests of the Democratic party.” DeBerry pleaded:
“I know who I am and what I have been and the example I have been in my district… This is why the folks in my district, who are very aware of who I am and what my beliefs are and what my record is, have elected me 13 times…
“I passed laws on racial profiling, identity theft and I could go on and on and on…during the income tax battle I was there… I come before you not in defense of my record but demanding that you look at it, that you look at it in total, that you look at my character.”
“Democracy should always err on the side of giving people the right to make these decisions,” agreed Rep. Mike Stewart, Chair of the State House Democratic Caucus.
Noting the DeBerry had always been open and consistent about his positions, “Sen. Raumesh Akbari provided one of the strongest defenses of DeBerry’s appeal — despite her many divergences from him on policy issues — and firmly pushed back against comments by committee members that District 90 primary voters should not be able to decide whether DeBerry is a Democrat because of low voter turnout or a perceived lack of voter education,” the Commercial Appeal reported.
Appealing on behalf of DeBerry, Memphis Democratic Sen. Akbari argued:
“You do not get to decide how a particular district votes. They do… We do not get to decide whose district is conservative and whose isn’t and who gets to run as a Democrat.”
However, according to the Commercial Appeal, “the majority of the committee vociferously opposed the representative’s appeal and the bulk of the discussion was a recitation of DeBerry’s perceived sins against the party.” Brandon Thomas, state Executive Committeeman for Senate District 13, “said that the Democratic party had changed since DeBerry was first elected and that he no longer represented the party’s values.” Katharine Heriges, an executive committee member for the Tennessee Democrat Party, “broke from her colleagues slightly to say she would vote for DeBerry to be returned to the ballot solely because she wanted him to lose in the primary and see that his views did not represent the party.”
After the executive committee’s vote removing him from the ballot, Tennessee Democratic Party spokesperson Emily Cupples said that DeBerry “was not faithful to the interests and success of the Democratic Party.”
Rep. DeBerry countered, stating “he had long opposed abortion and supported school choice and that the Democratic party, not him, had changed its values… the party was no longer inclusive and that being a Democrat in Tennessee had become ‘all about thinking with one brain, marching in step and following the company line, sitting there like a brainless idiot and letting them tell you what to do.’”
“The so-called party of inclusion is everything but inclusive. It’s all about thinking with one brain, marching in step and following the company line, sitting there like a brainless idiot and letting them tell you what to do.”
Responding to the vote ousting DeBerry from the state Democrat party, Memphis journalist Ryan Poe wrote, “And, just like that, the Tennessee Democratic Party’s big tent shrank… Completing the coup, it’s too late for him to run as an Independent or Republican.”
“For a party with ‘Democratic’ in its name, it was a low blow.”
I reached out to Rep. John DeBerry fr comment, but he did not respond by time of publication.