Tennessee Dems Ousted Over Gun Control Protest: ‘We Don’t Have a Democracy’
A Democratic State Rep. in Tennessee was voted out of office by Republican lawmakers on Thursday, as the state GOP moves to punish him and two other Dem. lawmakers for participating in a gun-control protest on the House floor.
Rep. Justin Jones was expelled from the legislature in a 72-25 vote. A vote to remove Rep. Gloria Johnson failed to pass despite GOP supermajority control of the chamber. Lawmakers ousted Rep. Justin J. Pearson Thursday evening in a 69-26 vote.
During their protest last week, Jones, Johnson, and Pearson joined in on several chants calling for gun reform. The trio also spoke at the House podium between bills without having been recognized to speak, thus breaking the chamber rules. The protest was motivated by a mass shooting at a Nashville elementary school, which left three children and three adults dead.
“The nation is seeing we don’t have democracy in Tennesse,” Jones told reporters in the State Capitol.
“We called for you all to ban assault weapons, and you respond with an assault on democracy,” he said in a speech on the House floor shortly before his removal. An overwhelming vote driven by the Republicans’ supermajority in the House removed Jones from his post.
Jones took Republicans to task, calling out the hypocrisy of expulsion over a minor rules violation when several members of the Republican caucus both past and present were guilty of much more severe violations.
“For years, one of your colleagues, who was an admitted child molester, sat in this chamber — no expulsion. One member sits in this chamber who was found guilty of domestic violence — no expulsion… We have a member currently under federal investigation — no expulsion. We had a member pee in another member’s chair in this chamber — no expulsion, in fact they’re in leadership in the governor’s administration,” Jones said.
“There is no equal application of law or rules, as we see in this chamber, as we saw today. But it depends on who you know, it depends on if you have a certain letter by your name, it depends on if you have a supermajority. That does not sound like democracy to me,” he added.
Jones accused Republicans of attempting a “power grab” by silencing “the two youngest Black representatives, and one of the only Democratic women in this body.”
Ahead of her own vote, Rep. Gloria Johnson, a schoolteacher representing parts of Knoxville, refused to apologize for her participation in the protest.
“What is my crime?… We’ve been through it over and over and over. I came to well, I stood with my colleagues. I fought for my constituents in a quiet, non “desk-pounding” [way],” she said, “I came her, and I stood. I did it for the kids in my district, for the kids in the state, for the kids in this community.”
Chants of “Gloria” broke out in the chamber following the failure of the effort to expel her, which failed to reach the required margin by just one vote.
Speaking to reporters outside of the chamber, where protestors supporting the three lawmakers have occupied the building, Pearson said that “there has been no House members who have ever been expelled for exercising their first amendment right to peaceful protest. This is a first in American history.”
As lawmakers debate in the House, protesters have flooded the state capitol, combining their calls for increased gun control measures with a defense of the lawmakers.
“Fuck you, fascists,” the gathered crowd chanted outside of the chamber.
The backlash to Tennessee Republican’s actions has made it all the way to the White House. “Three kids and three officials gunned down in yet another mass shooting,” President Joe Biden tweeted, “and what are GOP officials focused on? Punishing lawmakers who joined thousands of peaceful protesters calling for action. It’s shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.”
The “Tennessee Three” will reportedly be allowed to run to reclaim their seats in a special election, but they are already indicating they have no plans to go quietly. Jones told lawmakers on the house floor that even if they oust him he will “be back out there with the people every week demanding that you act… It’s not just about expelling me, it’s about expelling the people. But your action will do the exact opposite, it will galvanize them to see what is happening in this state.”
Jones imparted a warning to the rest of the nation: “If it can happen here in Tennessee, it’s coming to your state next.”