State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) was interviewed by Ralph Bristol on 99.7 FM WWTN’s Nashville’s Morning News on Friday about the shouting down of State Sen. Mae Beavers and State Rep. Mark Pody by protesters at the Capitol earlier this week.
Norris’s response to those protesters was panned by irate listeners who called in to Bristol’s program in the ensuing two hour on-air town hall that broke out over the airwaves.
Appearing on Bristol’s program a day earlier, Beavers said she wanted to see action taken against the protesters.
“What if anything needs to be done about it?” Bristol asked of the aggressiveness of the protesters towards Beavers and Pody.
“I think we need to be sensitive to… whether its her concerns or a constituents concerns . . .we need to be sensitive to her concerns and whether when having a press conference of that nature folks should follow people into their office,” Norris responded.
“But we all, including Sen. Beavers are, for the right to assemblage and open government, and a lot of the best stuff that gets done happens when we have that kind of open consideration,” he continued.
“There’s sometimes a fine line between free speech and the situations where you’re worried about inciting some kind of violence,” Norris added.
“Should the State Police have intervened in a more aggressive manner on Wednesday?” Bristol asked.
“I think not,” Norris responded.
“I think the moment when there was that level of concern , a State Trooper intervened and things worked out fine,” Norris added.
“Do you not think that, though, over the course of the last year that the protesters that are showing up at a lot of different places are more aggressive than a lot of political protesters generally are?” Bristol asked.
“The concern is might be a little bit more than normal and is growing and getting worse,” Bristol added.
“I don’t know yet,” Norris responded.
“I encourage folks to come as we all do. . . I think one of the best barometers is whether those assembling are effective. . . I think there are a lot of people who are learning how to protest,” Norris said.
“You don’t think a more aggressive reaction to the disruptive protesters is necessary?” Bristol pressed.
“I don’t think aggression is called for, aggressiveness on either side,” Norris responded.
WWTN callers responded vigorously after the Norris interview ended.
“The reaction has been immediate. It has been considerable. It has been almost all negative [towards Senator Norris]” Bristol noted on air halfway through the barrage of calls.
“I don’t understand how they can say the law enforcement should not have been more aggressive,” caller Thomas told Bristol after the Norris interview.
“It’s not just me,” caller Stan noted. “Everybody’s just sick and tired of politicians and police officers caving in to these protesters. . . The more we let these protesters get a little bit violent every time, they’re going to get worse and worse.”
“There’s three laws there that were flagrantly violated, and this guy [Senator Norris] is saying we should stand down. I guarantee you they were on Facebook bragging,” caller William said.
“I was very disturbed by them,” caller Jeff said of the comments from Norris.
“You’re not supposed to be able to take a sign into a conference room. You can’t impede legislators getting from one place to another,” he noted.
“The disruption of state business is what’s at stake here,” he added.
“That is not the way things should be done at the Capitol, and he should know better,” he said of Norris.
“I would suggest that the right honorable Senate Majority Leader open up the Tennessee code law book ….[and look at] the elements of disorderly conduct,” caller Rick said.
Those elements, he noted, were met by the actions of the protesters, and they should have been arrested.
You can hear Bristol’s interview of Norris, and the subsequent listener calls here.
Commenters on Bristol’s Facebook page showed the same adverse reaction to Norris’s response as did callers to his program.
“I have to strongly disagree that no aggressive action needs to be taken,” Phillip Henderson, one of the commenters wrote.
“The protesters set out to stop the meeting and were successful, they did it in a very loud, aggressive, disrespectful and threatening way. They do not have a right to treat elected officials that way and their actions should have been met with like reaction,” Henderson added.