150 demand senator show proof State of the State protesters were paid

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Protesters in the Capitol shout as people leave the State of the State address Monday, Jan. 30, 2017.(Photo: Joe Buglewicz / For The Tennessean)Buy Photo

Chanting “Bailey, can you hear us?” and “We pay you,” over 150 protesters filled the halls of the statehouse demanding evidence from a Republican lawmaker who said protesters at Gov. Bill Haslam’s  speech were paid to be there.

State Sen. , R-Sparta, sent out a tweet shortly after the speech on Jan. 30 saying that “several of the protesters admitted” to having been paid to be at the Capitol. The governor‘s annual address outside the House chamber as they spoke out about President Donald Trump, gun legislation, Black Lives Matter and women’s health. The loosely organized demonstrators reminded lawmakers “We are watching” to hold them accountable.

Later in the week when pressed by fellow lawmakers and media to provide additional proof, Bailey but declined to provide his source or any additional evidence.

Claims of paid protesters have been used by conservative outlets nationwide to discredit demonstrations. On Friday, Trump sent out a tweet saying that “professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters” .

On Thursday, Bailey‘s official Facebook page shared then deleted a video claiming that Nashville Downtown Partnership parking shuttles parked outside the Capitol during Haslam‘s address were evidence of paid protesters being shuttled in to demonstrate. The buses were actually used to shuttle legislators to a private reception at the Ryman Auditorium, as first reported by the Nashville Scene.

Before the demonstration at the statehouse, a small group of protesters went to Bailey‘s office with an expense report detailing costs incurred last Monday during the State of the State address. They wanted Bailey‘s unnamed source to reimburse them.

“We are not paid protesters,” said Taralei Griffin of Spring Hill. “But we wouldn‘t mind being reimbursed.”

A staffer from the senator‘s office told the small gathering the senator was not available and that they could not reveal the identity of the source for “security purposes.”

Sidney Bennett of Hermitage came to the protests last week and was part of the small group that visited Bailey‘s office. While she would be here regardless of whether she was paid, she was upset that the senator was trying to diminish their efforts.

“My one little thing might not make a difference, but if enough people do it, perhaps it will,” she said.

Bailey did not immediately return messages for comment.

Check back for updates.

Reach Kirk A. Bado on Twitter .

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