Rep. Miller Forced to Withdraw a Resolution Praising Henri Brooks.

The controversial county commissioner is still persona non grata for many in the General Assembly, where she once served.

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Henri Brooks
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NASHVILLE -- The legend of Henri Brooks, now a member of the Shelby County Commission and formerly a member of the state House of Representatives, dies hard.

Very hard, as state Rep. Larry Miller discovered Thursday in Nashville. Last week, Miller had placed on the House consent calendar a routine resolution recognizing Brooks, who was recently one of a dozen Memphians cited for their achievements by The Commercial Appeal in an article entitled “Twelve Who Made a Difference.”

Resolutions of that sort on behalf of people in one’s district who are honored for this or that are common and are almost always made part of the consent calendar, which, as the name implies, is a compilation of uncontroversial matters, requiring a pro forma vote, normally unanimous by acclamation.

Brooks, however, is anything but uncontroversial. During her several terms in the legislature, she attracted the attention of her peers — and notably on one occasion, that of former longtime House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who took umbrage — for her refusal to take part in the pledges of allegiance to the flag which began each day’s work in the House.

Brooks objects philosophically to the pledge, apparently because she regards it as symbolic of America’s failure to extend the full promise of human liberty to African Americans. She continues that objection as a member of the Commission, most often either standing mute when the pledge is recited by members of the Commission and audience or by taking her seat only when the pledge has been recited.

Though Brooks has always had her defenders, who note that her actions are protected by the Constitution, she has had her critics, too — and the number of them has been disproportionately greater.

So, even though Brooks, who left the House after the election of 2006, was an unknown quantity to most of the current members of the legislature, word of her predilections spread rapidly enough that, when Miller came to the floor on Thursday, he was informed by Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), caucus chair of the majority Republicans, “Larry, we’re going to bump the Brooks resolution.” That meant the resolution would have to be the subject of debate — and vociferous debate at that.

Miller concluded the resolution was doomed for certain defeat after “a whole lot of angry discussion.”

He says he was informed that Rep. Joe Carr, a flamboyantly conoservative Republican from Rutherford County of independent and distinctive views himself (he has recently filed bills challenging federal authority in Tennessee, for example) had been one of the organizers of anti-Brooks sentiment. “He’s getting ready to run for Congress,” Miller notes, by way of explanation.

In any case, a resolution which Miller had regarded as routine would, he realized, became the focus of a floor fight, touching upon partisan and even racial differences and risking a general conflagration. “We would have voted for the resolution,” says Miller, meaning the House Democrats, “but they {Republicans] would have opposed it, and that could have become bitter.”

He says he was urged to make a fight of it by some of his colleagues but decided that something like that, this early in the legislative session, could adversely affect the temper of the body and derail consideration of urgent issues that required at least the semblance of bipartisan cooperation and respect.

Another course suggested by his colleagues was to retailiate by bumping every routine resolution on the consent calendar brought by a Republican member. Miller advised against that as well.

In the end, he deferred his resolution (“rolled” it, in legislative vernacular) until “the last calendar.”

That phrase normally means the very end of the legislative session, which this year will be in late April or early May. In this case, Miller concedes, "the last calendar" probably means never.

“It just wasn’t worth igniting a war over,” Miller said.

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