NASHVILLE - House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick denounced Chattanooga business leaders on the floor today and accused them of sending a letter calling on him to oppose a controversial student transgender bathroom bill while maintaining silence about the city's failure to deal with a spree of gang violence.
McCormick also threatened major corporations who came out against the bill, which was shelved by the House sponsor on Monday.
The Chattanooga Republican made his statement during the House's period of personal orders. But while McCormick defended the intent behind the bill that would have required students use communal public school and college bathrooms that match their biological sex at birth, he also said "I think we did the right thing yesterday" when it was pulled.
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But McCormick said while business leaders worked to defeat the legislation, "I want to say what else is happening in Chattanooga in the last few weeks. We have a full-fledged gang war going on in Chattanooga.
"This weekend we had four people shot in Chattanooga," McCormick continued. "One guy got shot while he was cutting his grass in his yard. Cutting his yard. They had to lock down Erlanger hospital because there were roving gangs in the emergency room because a gang member had been shot or alleged gang member. And they had to shut down the emergency room. All the employees of the hospital had to lock down and stay in their offices because of this.
"But," the majority leader charged, "our Chamber of Commerce is writing us letters about the bathroom bill. Now the reason they're not all fired up about the city of Chattanooga's handling of the gang problem is because the city of Chattanooga sends them money and funds their budget. And we don't. Guess what. We ain't gonna."
McCormick told colleagues, many of whom applauded his statement, that "they got me mad this morning. I appreciate you listening to me."
But he then offered a parting warning shot to the state's business community.
"All these companies who tried to blackmail us over this thing, when they come for their corporate welfare checks [economic incentives] next year, we need to have a list out and keep an eye on it."
While many members applauded, black lawmakers welcome the almost all-white Republican majority caucus to the plight of some primarily black, low-income communities have faced for decades and urged them to deal with underlying economic problems they say have helped spur social collapse in some quarters.
"Our ancestors were promised 40 acres, a mule and $100," said Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga. "They did not receive this."
She said there are problems "any time you have a population that has no resources and that is what has happened with us."
Favors said blacks still have the same "one half of one percent of the wealth" today that they did after the Civil War.
"And because you see a few people in various places, a few African-Americans, the economic aspect has not been addressed and has not been dealt with," Favors said.