Politics /

Expelled Tennessee Lawmakers Win Special Elections

'The statement we’re making to the Republican Party ... is crystal clear: You can’t expel a movement,’ said Justin Pearson

Two state representatives who were expelled from the Tennessee legislature for encouraging an anti-gun protest inside the legislative chamber have won special elections to fill their seats.

Justin Pearson and Justin Jones will both serve the remainder of their terms after being published for expelling decorum rules.

Over a thousand gun control activists gathered at the Tennessee Capitol on March 30 in the wake of the mass shooting at a Christian school in Nashville carried out by 28-year-old Audrey Elizabeth Hale, who identified as transgender. Three nine-year-old children and three adults died as a result of the attack. The protestors chanted “Do you even care?” in the rotunda before gathering in the gallery of the House of Representatives.

Around 10:50 a.m., then-state Representatives Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson led a protest in the middle of a vote on the Tennessee education savings account program. Jones complained to Speaker Cameron Sexton, who called for a five-minute recess. Jones Pearson and Johnson then went to the podium with a megaphone and chanted “Gun control now!”

The gathered activists joined in the chant from the balcony. Protestors involved in the incident who were investigated ultimately did not face charges.

Johnson survived her expulsion vote after the legislative body fell one vote short of the 66 needed to carry out the punitive actions. The chamber voted 75-25 to expel Jones and 69-26 to expel Pearson for disorderly behavior.

Jones is a community organizer who moved from California to Tennessee to attend Frisk University in 2013. Prior to his election from District 52, he was involved in multiple protests at the Capitol, including one which resulted in his arrest in April 2017. He was banned from the Capitol in March 2019 after he assaulted House Speaker Glen Casada during an environmental protest. Jones threw a cup of coffee at Casada after trying to push past law enforcement and calling the official a racist.

Both the Nashville Metropolitan Council, which oversees District 52, and the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, which oversees Pearson’s district, ultimately voted to reinstate the Democrats “under a provision in the state’s constitution that lets district-level officials fill legislative vacancies until a special election can be held,” reports Reuters. The outlet noted both districts “heavily favor the Democratic Party.”

Both Jones and Pearson defeated Republican challengers.

“The statement we’re making to the Republican party in Nashville is crystal clear: You can’t expel a movement,” said Pearson at his watch party in Memphis, per Commercial Appeal. “You can’t expel hope. For these movements live in the people in this district, people who refused to be silenced and shackled and told to be quiet and be in the back.”

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