Despite the horrific attack in suburban Washington D.C. on Republican legislators, regular protests at Tennessee’s legislative plaza and death threats made against at least two Tennessee legislators, there have been no requests by legislative leadership for additional review of security procedures, in general, or the Cordell Hull Building, specifically, as the legislature prepares to move there from Legislative Plaza/War Memorial Building later this year.
The Tennessee Star requests for comment from Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) as to whether they had requested a security review in light of these events, were referred to their respective communications person, and, in turn, referred to Connie Ridley, Director, Office of Legislative Administration.
Ms. Ridley’s response began with reassurance, “The General Assembly takes the security of members, staff and the general public seriously,” but continued generically,
We review our policies and procedures and make updates as appropriate on an ongoing basis. As you might expect, a thorough evaluation of all our security policies and procedures is a large part of the ongoing transition process to our new facility.
There has been cause for concern at the current facility, starting with a change this year to the security policy where the Tennessee Highway Patrol check of a visitor’s identification and printing of an individual name badge had been eliminated.
Then, early in Tennessee’s legislative session, a press conference scheduled by Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) and Rep. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) regarding their proposed “Bathroom Bill” and “Defense of Marriage Act” came to an abrupt end when they were unable to speak over the shouting of protestors. Protestors then intimidatingly followed Beavers and Pody through hallways and into elevators, aggressively pushing their way in to their respective offices.
Subsequently, the two legislators began receiving death threats, and, according to Sen. Beavers, even had their names put on a kill list along with President Trump. Sen. Beavers and other legislators called for increased security measures.
Up until the last day of the legislative session, every floor session of the State House and Senate, legislators of both bodies were met in the capitol rotunda outside the chambers with yelling and sign-waving protestors.
Every elevator door opening was met with protestors crowding the area. Velvet ropes set up in the rotunda by the sergeant-at-arms kept protestors out of the path of representatives on their way to the House floor. Some protestors would simply stand beside the velvet ropes trying to get their signs noticed, while others shouted with palpable anger. Often not unified, the protestors’ objectives were unclear, but, at times, signs seemed to suggest violence.
Some of the same protestors have extended their efforts beyond floor sessions by sitting in legislators’ offices for extended periods, disrupting and jeopardizing the confidentiality of constituent work, displacing enthusiastic supporters at President Trump’s March rally in Nashville, and crashing Sen. Mae Beavers’ rally where she announced her run for the Republican nomination for Governor of Tennessee.
While legislators have sought to reduce or eliminate gun-free zones in the state and in 2016 discussed removing the “gun-free zone” signs from Legislative Plaza and the War Memorial Building, they have not, which leaves concealed carry permit holders, legislators, employees and the public alike, defenseless in those buildings. Meanwhile, legislative leadership has their own personal security detail.