Tennessee GOP Leadership’s Recent History Of Censoring Citizens

The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

Over the last two years, the leaders of the Tennessee Republican Party have seemingly been on a mission to silence citizens that were outwardly critical of their job performance, publicly questioned or expressed opinions about their policies, or simply wanted to practice their freedoms as citizens of the Volunteer State.

The following is a brief summary of some of the instances The Tennessee Conservative has reported on.


House Sign Ban

Prior to the beginning of Governor Lee’s Special Session that concluded on August 29th, 2023, House Speaker Cameron Sexton formed an ad hoc committee that met privately in his conference room to create new rules for the House of Representatives.

The meetings were not listed on the formal House schedule and included no members of the media or public, contrary to General Assembly open meeting rules.

The new rules were reportedly created in response to unruly protestors and three Democrat lawmakers (Reps. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville) who spurred on protestors using megaphones on the House floor.

The new rules banned megaphones and recording devices on the House floor but also put in place the ability for lawmakers to receive penalties for going off topic on a bill or interrupting debate.  

In addition, the rules reduced  the number of people allowed in the rotunda and viewing areas in the chamber. 

Further, the rules banned the holding of signs in committee meetings and public galleries.

While the rules may have been put in place to aid with making Democrat lawmakers follow rules of decorum and keeping unruly protestors in check so the chamber could work more efficiently, they could have just as easily been used to silence lawmakers and session attendees that represent a larger portion of Tennessee voters, namely Republicans and Conservatives.

Tennessee Conservative reader Tom Casey says that this very thing happened to him during the last general session of the Tennessee legislature, except in a Senate committee versus the House –

“My First Amendment right to redress my government peacefully, respectfully, and abiding by Senate rules was violated under the color of law last session in a senate judiciary committee hearing room while attending in support of a pro 2A gun bill! What did my regulation 8 x11 terrible sign say you might ask? ‘Honor Your Oath.’ 

We are on a slippery slope!! What can be used for good can always be used for bad…

When a regime is faced with losing power and control that is always when they crack down the most on dissenting voices. That’s what you are watching now in our General Assembly: the RINO corrupt cabal grasping to keep control!!  So the voices of the We The People must be suppressed far left or constitutional right!!”

Following a lawsuit brought by ACLU Tennessee, Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Anne Martin ruled that the holding of small signs in House of Representatives’ galleries and committee meeting rooms is likely protected by the First Amendment, keeping in place a temporary restraining order allowing members of the public to carry signs.

2023 Annual Campaign

Legislation To Silence Free Speech Of News Outlets & Advocacy Groups

During the 2023 regular session of the Tennessee General Assembly, Representative Sam Whitson (R-Franklin-District 65) and Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville-District 7) sponsored legislation that could have been used to force news outlets, advocacy groups, companies, associations and clubs/groups to register as Political Action Committees (PACs) and be subject to all the regulations thereof.

The conversion of these groups into PACs could have placed all the campaign finance regulations that apply to PACs onto them as well, even though these groups likely do not exist for the sole purpose of political campaign fundraising.

The Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance Ethics worked with Rep. Whitson to craft the legislation and the Executive Director of said bureau, Bill Young, lobbied for the bill’s passage.

After significant pushback from conservative Tennessee voters, the legislation was eventually amended to remove all “controversial language” and was rewritten almost in its entirety.

Incumbent Protection Bill

Also during the 2023 regular session of the Tennessee General Assembly Senate, Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton introduced legislation that many Conservative believe was crafted, in part, to silence the grassroots and to help ensure the reelection of Republican incumbents.

The legislation that was touted as a “transparency bill” included a section adding requirements for 501(c)(4), 501(c)(5) and 501(c)(6) nonprofits to report expenses of more than $5,000 spent on communications with the image or name of candidates on them in the final 60 days before an election.  

The legislation increases paperwork for groups that try to keep the public aware of legislator’s voting habits, etc. and may effectively work toward silencing many that do not have the manpower to deal with increased red tape.

On the House side, only Representatives Scotty Campbell, Tim Rudd and Todd Warner voted No.  On the Senate side, only Senators Janice Bowling, Joey Hensley and Mark Pody voted No. 

On May 27th, 2022, Governor Lee signed the legislation and on June 1st, 2022, the bill became law as Public Chapter 1087

Book your tickets now before we sell out!

Weaponization of  the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance

In September of 2022, the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance decided to audit the campaign of former District 27 State Senate candidate Gary Humble who lost to incumbent Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) by only a narrow margin.

Although there has been no tangible evidence presented or complaints filed against Humble’s campaign, Registry board member Tom Lawless called for the investigation.

Lawless said addressing the Registry, “There’s some smoke there, which usually means there’s something underneath that causes it to rise. And I just want you all to dig into it.”

Lawless is a Nashville banking lawyer who has served in the financial industry for roughly 32 years. Of note, Humble’s opponent, Jack Johnson, has held high positions in the banking industry for many years.  He currently serves as StudioBank’s Senior Vice President.

The stated reason for the audit was to determine whether there was any inappropriate coordination between Humble and Tennessee Stands, a 501 (c)4 which is helmed by Humble.

When the registry voted to move forward with the audit, it was done based on information provided by Lawless, who pointed to a QR code on a single mailer sent out by the campaign, that was tied to a podcast on the Tennessee Stands website, which in the state of Tennessee is not illegal because it is not what would be considered an endorsement. 

Following a meeting in June of 2023, the matter has been tabled until October.

Many Conservatives believe the audit was initiated in an attempt to ensure potential candidates, especially those that are from the grassroots, never again challenge a Republican incumbent for their seat.

Large Tennessee GOP Organization Pressures Small County GOP Group To Suppress Free Speech

In September 2022, the Tennessee Federation of Republican Women (TNFRW) issued an ultimatum to the Blount County Republican Women’s Club.

The TNFRW determined that by inviting “controversial figure” Gary Humble (Founder and Executive Director of Tennessee Stands) to be a guest speaker, the president of BCRW, Heather Fair, was in violation of TNFRW’s bylaws.

TNFRW offered Fair three choices to “rectify the situation”:

1) Resign immediately.

2) Rescind Humble’s invitation to speak, and Fair would be allowed to remain as President of BCRW.

3) Neither resign nor rescind the invitation, but then BCRW is subject to censure, possible fines and/or closure by the TNFRW.

Fair said, “I absolutely do not want any repercussions for the club or BCRW members, so option #3 was never even a consideration.”

“Rescinding the invite or censoring Gary (‘just give him some boundaries’ was advice heard earlier this week) goes against my principles and I refuse to do either,” Fair explained.

Standing by her principles left Fair with only one option, to resign immediately.


Also of note, every time legislation has been introduced in the Tennessee legislature to protect Tennessean’s freedom of speech on social media platforms, it has been killed in committees or subcommittees generally for the excuse of “lack of funding.”  

However, funding always seems readily available to bankroll the many projects of multi-billion dollar corporations like Ford Motor Company.

Freedom of Speech legislation (HB0448 / SB0551), however, was passed in the 2023 general session of the legislature that requires state and local governments to allow time for public comment at publicly-held meetings.

It doesn’t appear that this law was practiced during the Special Session and it remains to be seen whether comment periods will be opened up when the legislature reopens in January of 2024.

About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative  ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com

3 thoughts on “Tennessee GOP Leadership’s Recent History Of Censoring Citizens

  • August 31, 2023 at 4:01 pm

    Sam Whitson is a Rino. He voted against censoring the Dem woman who caused the riot. The funny thing was that she then called him a racist.

    The Republican Women group in Williamson is controlled by RINO’s and should be scorned and abolished.

    Thanks for calling these people out – please name names!!!

  • August 31, 2023 at 9:14 pm

    IMHO, Gary Humble has WAAY more integrity than the majority of current legislators combined.

  • August 31, 2023 at 11:02 pm

    Starting to look like 1917 Russia and 1930’s Germany.
    Mr. Al ‘KGB’ Gore has been awful silent.
    Probably counting his billions, he pocketed off his climate hoax?


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