Expelled Tenn Dems Vow Return to ‘Toxic’ GOP-Controlled State House
Former Tennessee state Reps. Justin J. Pearson and Justin Jones said Sunday on Meet the Press that they each plan on returning to the state legislature.
The Tennessee House of Representatives on Thursday voted to expel the two Black Democratic lawmakers, while failing by a single vote to oust Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white. On March 30, the trio had led a protest for gun control at the House podium in light of the mass shooting three days prior at Nashville’s Covenant School. But since they were not recognized to speak, they broke the rules of the chamber.
When asked about his experience in the legislature, where the GOP holds a supermajority, Pearson described it as a “toxic work environment.” The 28-year-old pointed to how just last month, Republican state Rep. Paul Sherrell suggested that the state should include “hanging by a tree” as one of its execution methods, a remark for which he later apologized. Pearson added that he had been criticized for being “unprofessional” for wearing a dashiki on the House floor.
“They are sending signals that [we] don’t belong here,” Pearson said, claiming that the root cause is that some on the other side of the aisle “are afraid of the changes happening in society and the voices that are elevated.”
In that vein, Todd raised the issue of gerrymandering in Memphis and Nashville, parts of which are represented by Pearson and Jones, respectively. In 2022, for instance, Republican Gov. Bill Lee approved GOP-drawn maps carving up Nashville’s solidly Democratic congressional seat into three more Republican-friendly districts.
To Jones, the GOP’s expulsion vote was the culmination of something that had been simmering for months.
“I think our presence as young, Black voices for our constituencies—people who will not bow down, those who will not be conformed—that’s what put a target on us the day we walked into the Tennessee General Assembly,” said the 27-year-old, who won election in November.
As for the five GOP lawmakers who voted to oust Jones and Pearson but keep Johnson, at least one has denied that race was a factor. “Absolutely not,” Rep. Lowell Russell told The Daily Beast on Friday. “The facts are how I decided my vote.” Russell claimed that Johnson “did not participate in the extent that Jones and Pearson did,” and pointed to one video that depicts the pair speaking into a bullhorn while at the House podium.
But that explanation hasn’t been satisfactory to a majority of members on the Nashville Metropolitan Council, for instance, who intend on voting to send Jones right back to the state house, according to NBC News.
“No elected official in the State of Tennessee has ever been expelled for breaking decorum rules,” Jeff Syracuse told the outlet.
Councilmember Burkley Allen added that the expulsion is “a terrible precedent to set” and “not the way democracy works,” echoing criticisms made by President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama.
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