Civil rights champion, pro-life Democrat loses reelection bid in Tennessee

john deberry 1 Rep. John DeBerry. Courtesy photo.

Longtime Tennessee state representative, civil rights champion, and pro-life Democrat John DeBerry lost his reelection bid on Tuesday evening. DeBerry was standing as an independent after he was removed from the Democratic primary ballot earlier this year, in part due to his pro-life views.

Torrey Harris, 29, overwhelmingly won the election in House District 90, garnering 77% of the vote to DeBerry's 23%. Harris is a community organizer who previously lost to DeBerry in the 2018 primary. House District 90 is located in Memphis. 

Harris, alongside newly-elected state representative Eddie Mannis (R-Knoxville), are the state's first two openly-LGBT congressmen. Harris identifies as bisexual. 

In a statement after declaring victory, Harris said that he hopes "to be someone you look to as a real representative. Someone who will listen, empower, not just some, but all Tennesseeans in all the state." 

Harris stated that while in Nashville, he was "going to do all that I possibly can just to make sure that they get what they went and voted for - they get somebody who is going to advocate for public education, for healthcare, women's rights, for LGBT rights and for criminal justice reform." 

DeBerry represented House District 90 in the Tennessee House of Representatives since 1994. He was a member of the Democratic Party until May 2020, when the Tennessee Democratic Party removed him from the House District 90 primary ballot. 

DeBerry was criticized for his support of pro-life legislation, school-choice programs, and other policy positions typically favored by Republicans. 

DeBarry ran in the general election as an independent. In a statement to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, DeBerry stated that his views had not changed since the 1960s, and that he was a victim of party politics. 

"The fact that I had to be removed from the ballot and run as an independent... It says a lot about where things are right now," DeBerry said on Tuesday night. 

"The district had a choice and they made one, so we will live with it." 

In September, DeBerry told CNA that he had no regrets about holding firm to his pro-life beliefs, despite the consequences from with the Democratic Party.

"My work in Nashville as a legislator is nothing more than an extension of my work as a child of God, as a Christian," DeBerry told CNA.

"And I take to heart Ephesians chapter 6, 'We wrestle not against flesh and blood'-people are not the enemy," he said, but "there are those who make laws that are blasphemous of God's law."

"I have always made my focus staying in accordance to the laws of God, even when my votes are made," said DeBerry, who is also a minister in the Church of Christ.

During his time in office, DeBerry supported the state's fetal heartbeat bill, which would ban abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat, usually when an unborn baby is around six to eight weeks old. 

He also opposed the redefinition of marriage, and supports the "right" and responsibility of parents to educate their children and make choices for them.

In addition to DeBerry's pro-life positions, he is also a life-long civil rights activist. As a child, he attended civil rights marches with his father. 

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In a passionate speech on the Tennessee House Floor in August, during the second extraordinary session of the state's general assembly, DeBerry contrasted the peaceful nature of the protests he witnessed and participated in as a youth with riots in U.S. cities in the last few months.

"I am one of those individuals who walked in back doors because the law said I had to," he said in his speech Aug. 12, while recalling the bravery and dignity of the civil rights movement.

"I saw men and women stand with courage and integrity and class, and they changed the world," he said. "They marched peacefully, and Dr. King stood for that which was peaceful."

"They didn't beg for anything. They didn't beg for citizenship--they demanded it," he said. "They did it by standing like men and women of integrity."

In the wake of civil unrest in many U.S. cities, DeBerry condemned what he called defenses of rioting, looting, and violence in the name of anti-racism during his August speech. 

"You're telling me that somebody has the right to throw feces and urine in the faces of those that we as taxpayers pay to protect us? And that's okay?" he asked. 

"What has happened to us?"

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