NASHVILLE -- The demonstators from the University of Memphis and the Memphis College of Art who were carried away bodily by state troopers Tuesday after staging a protest and refusing to leave a Senate Commerce Committee hearing picked up both supporters and detractors Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Early in the day, Republican state senators Jack Johnson of Franklin and Randy McNally of Oak Ridge suggested to reporters that the students, who chanted slogans against anti-union legislation and then went limp before being carried out of the hearing room, should be dealt with administratively by officials at their universities.
Johnson, a sponsor of the proposed bill being protested, which in his version would prohibit collective bargaining by teachers, said he thought suspension and expulsion were suitable remedies.
Three leading Democratic legislators did not agree. Asked about the matter after they had presided over an end-of-the-week press availability were state Reps. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, the Democrats’ House leader; Mike Turner of Nashville, Democratic caucus chairman; and Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, House Speaker emeritus.
"I thought those were 'nomadic tribesmen,'" Fitzhugh said, scornfully playing off a negative description of the protesters on Tuesday by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville).
Turner was more direct: "This is still America. Those people had every right to protest what they did."
Naifeh, who presided over the House 9 years ago when there were mass anti-income-tax protests at the Capitol which resulted in physical damage to the Capitol, said, "In 2002 all the protesters were called patriots. These folks were patriots yesterday."
And Turner continued: "Those people lay down. They didn’t fight the police. It was akin to a Civil Rights protest. They weren’t trying to beat anybody up or anything like that. You know, we had windows knocked out, horns were honked, there were phone calls at night threatening people. This country was founded on protest. This is still America."