Let’s play a few rounds of reasonable/unreasonable.

In Tennessee, Democratic State Representatives Justin Pearson and Justin Jones were expelled from the Legislature for participating in a takeover of the House floor by protestors angry over the body’s refusal to pass gun control legislation.

In Montana, Rep. Zoey Zephyr was banned from her House floor for saying that her colleagues who voted for a bill that bans gender-affirming care of minors had “blood on their hands.”

In Dane County, Rep. Shelia Stubbs is taking heat for her supporters who have used racial slurs to attack Black supervisors who question her nomination to lead the county’s human services agency. That played a role in two key committees’ votes to recommend that her nomination be rejected.

What ties these things loosely together is a tangled web of over-reaction, incongruity, race, gender and cultural war clashes. Let’s try to sort them out as best we can and sift out the reasonable actions from those that were over the top.

In the case of Pearson and Jones, what they did was wrong, but not that wrong. By participating in the shutting down of their own house they crossed a line and they deserved some sort of official rebuke. But Republicans who control the body over-reacted by ousting them altogether. And it was no coincidence that Pearson and Jones are Black. Their local governments quickly acted to reappoint them to their old seats and they will undoubtedly win reelection at their next elections. Republicans succeeded only in making Pearson and Jones national heroes on the left and to make themselves look foolish and more than a little bit racist. We think that charge gets overused, but in this case Tennessee Republicans have earned it.

Montana Rep. Zoey Zephyr

Zoey Zephyr used the old “blood on your hands” cliche that we don’t like much. I’ve always thought that it was over-the-top and a little preachy. But it gets used often enough, especially on the floors of legislative bodies, as to have become just another trope. If anything, Zephyr should have been sanctioned for lack of originality. Instead, once again Republicans over-reacted by excluding her from legislative debate for the rest of the term. And again, her identity is no coincidence as she’s the first transgender legislator in Montana. I have my own doubts about the advisability of gender-affirming treatments for minors, but I don’t see where the state gets off banning choices made by children and their families in consultation with doctors. Republicans used to be for personal freedom, the primacy of families and limited government. Not anymore, I guess.

Which brings us back home to the whole Stubbs mess. The latest development is that 30 Dane County Supervisors signed a letter denouncing the words of Stubbs’ supporters and her unwillingness to distance herself from them. Yesterday, belatedly, Stubbs did finally get around to doing that. Stubbs seems to believe that she deserves this job (she literally said that God gave it to her) and that any questioning is racist and, one would assume, also blasphemy.

So, what’s reasonable and not in these cases?

To protest the Tennessee Legislature’s unwillingness to do anything about gun violence after a mass shooting there is reasonable. To take over the House floor and for members to join in the disruption is not. To sanction those members in some form is reasonable. To expel them from the body is not.

To have concerns about gender-affirming treatments for minors is reasonable. For the state to interfere with families’ medical decisions, which are generally supported by health care professionals, is not. For a transgender lawmaker to voice her opposition to that policy is reasonable. To say that her colleagues had blood on their hands is not, but it’s even more unreasonable for the leadership to overreact by excluding her from further debate.

For Shelia Stubbs to try to rally support behind her nomination is reasonable just as it’s reasonable for supervisors to ask relevant questions about her tactics and her qualifications. But to make personal attacks on those supervisors is not.

What we’ve got here are three cases of passion on the one hand and over-reaction on the other. Now, a certain amount of controlled passion can be a good thing, but It’s better not to assume the very worst motives on the part of your opponents. And even when you’ve got a good case for those bad motives it’s a good idea not to say so out loud.

What we could use everywhere right now is a lot more reasonable behavior. It would be useful for everybody to just take a deep breath.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

One thought on “Reasonable/Unreasonable

  1. I don’t think anything is reasonable about removing the breasts from young women or providing irreversible hormone therapies to children, even if misguided parents or Mengele-like doctors agree. It is unreasonable that we should have to legally protect our children from this crazy maltreatment.


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