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Tennessee House Leader Who Led Expulsion Effort May Be Breaking Residency Rules

State House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s child attends school in Nashville, two hours away from the lawmaker’s home district.

Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton is pictured at an event in Dickson, Tennessee, on October 24, 2019.

Tennessee Speaker of the state House of Representatives Cameron Sexton (R), who led the charge to expel three Democrats from office after they participated in a protest for gun reform on the House floor, may be in violation of state residency rules, potentially warranting removal from his post.

Sexton, who is a representative for Tennessee’s 25th House district, officially lists an address in Crossville, Tennessee, as his primary residence. An investigation into Sexton’s residency by Judd Legum of Popular Information, however, uncovered that Sexton’s home in the district is just a place keeper, as he and his family currently reside near the state capital of Nashville.

Listing his official residence as being in Crossville allows Sexton to remain in office, as the district leans heavily Republican, Legum wrote in his report. Sexton coasted to reelection in last fall’s midterm races, securing nearly five out of every six votes in the district.

But Sexton has been inconsistent on his home address. On his website, he lists a home that he sold in October 2020. He has since purchased a small, two-bedroom condominium in Crossville, which he used as his residence for campaign records in 2022, but neighbors say he’s rarely there — only occasionally on weekends and sporadically during the summer, when the legislature is out of session.

“He says he lives here, but he’s not here,” said one of his neighbors in Crossville.

Sexton and his wife secretly purchased a $600,000 home in West Nashville in 2021, using a trust to do so. The 2,600-square-foot, four-bedroom home is where Sexton’s wife and elementary-school-aged child primarily reside. His child attends a private Christian school in the area.

Tennessee state laws on residency say that, if applicable, a person’s residency is based on where their spouse or children live. Sexton, who recently admitted that his family lives primarily in Nashville, has tried to justify the discrepancy between his listed residence and his true home by claiming that his work requires him to be in Nashville constantly.

Notably, a state statute on residency says that a person “does not gain or lose residence solely by reason of the person’s presence or absence while employed in this service of … this state.”

Though this could arguably apply to Sexton, Legum has pointed out that the spousal condition on residency seems to overrule that statute. “The only specified way to overcome this presumption” — that a person’s residency is based on where one’s spouse or child resides — “is by proving you live in a different home than your spouse. For Sexton, this is not the case,” Legum said.

Sexton is also taking advantage of per diem reimbursements for state lawmakers who live a significant distance from Nashville. Because Crossville is a two-hour drive from the state capital, Sexton receives a $313 daily allowance for lodging and travel expenses, even on days when the legislature is not in session. Since 2021, he has received more than $92,000 in per diem payments.

These revelations suggest that Sexton may be ineligible to serve the district he was elected to last fall. If challenged and successfully found to be an improper representative, he may be removed from the state House of Representatives — an ironic outcome, given his widely publicized attempts to remove other lawmakers earlier this month.

As speaker of the Tennessee House, Sexton led calls for the expulsion of three state Democratic lawmakers who used a bullhorn to lead protesters in chants in favor of gun reform on the House floor late last month. Sexton initially claimed that the lawmakers — state Reps. Justin Jones, Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson — intended to “incite violence” at the capitol, but later admitted that he had no evidence whatsoever to back up that claim.

Pearson and Jones, who are Black, were expelled for their actions; Johnson, who is white, avoided expulsion, which many observers have pointed out was likely due to her race.

The two lawmakers have since been reinstated to their positions by their local governments.

U.S. Democratic senators have requested that the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigate Pearson and Jones’s removal to determine whether it was in violation of civil rights laws or state or federal statutes barring racial discrimination.

“Silencing legislators on the basis of their views or their participation in protected speech or protest is antithetical to American democracy and values,” the letter to the DOJ said. “We cannot allow states to cite minor procedural violations as pretextual excuses to remove democratically-elected representatives, especially when these expulsions may have been at least partially on the basis of race. Allowing such behavior sets a dangerous — and undemocratic — precedent.”

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