One of the Democratic lawmakers who was expelled from the Tennessee House of Representatives by Republicans last week was reinstated to his position on Monday night, with the other expected to be reappointed later this week.
Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) and Rep. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis), both of whom are Black, were punished by Republicans for using a bullhorn to lead protesters in calls for gun reform on the House floor last month. After claiming that the peaceful interruption to business as usual was “at least equivalent, maybe worse” than the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021, Republican leaders held votes to expel Jones, Pearson and a third Democrat, Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), who also took part in the demonstration.
Jones and Pearson were both expelled, while Johnson, who is white, avoided expulsion by one vote. When asked by reporters why she was able to avoid being removed, Johnson said it “might have to do with the color of our skin.”
After the expulsion vote was widely condemned as being racist and authoritarian, the Nashville Metro Council voted on Monday to reappoint Jones to his position. The vote, which took place on Monday, was 36-0 in favor of Jones’s reappointment. Less than an hour later, Jones marched to the state Capitol building, surrounded by hundreds of his supporters, and was sworn back into office.
When a vacancy occurs in the Tennessee state House of Representatives, the state constitution stipulates that the county council or legislative body from which that seat originates must select an interim replacement until a special election can be held. For Jones’s seat, that legislative body is the Nashville Metro Council; for Pearson, it is the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, which is expected to vote on his reappointment later this week.
Nashville Metro councilwoman Delishia Porterfield denounced Jones’s expulsion in an explanation of her vote on Monday.
“Our voters were silenced. With this vote, we are restoring the political voice of 70,000 people of District 52,” Porterfield said. “Their will should have never been undermined. The people chose their representative. We will send a strong message that we will not tolerate threats to our democracy.”
On the steps of the state Capitol building on Monday evening, Jones addressed his supporters with a bullhorn once more.
“This is the rebirth and resurrection of a movement in Tennessee, not just today but in the days ahead,” Jones said. “The birth of the new South, because right here in Nashville we’ve got movements led by young people that transformed this nation.”
Rumors have swelled around the statehouse that the reinstatement of Jones and Pearson could result in further retaliation from GOP lawmakers, who might use such actions to justify steep budget cuts against Nashville and Shelby County. Although Republicans have not publicly threatened budget cuts so far, Shelby County Commissioner Erika Sugarmon has said that she and her fellow commissioners are “being threatened by the state to take away funding, needed funding to run our schools, to run our municipalities” if they consider reappointing Pearson to his position. At least one other commissioner has said that she is planning to vote against reappointing Pearson out of fear that Shelby County could lose funding as a result.
Though Pearson is still expected to be reinstated, he lambasted Republicans for their apparent threats to lawmakers from his community.”I think that it is appalling that [Republican] leaders in Nashville would actually threaten other elected officials in Shelby County with the removal of funds from our county if they follow the Democratic process of reappointment,” Pearson told HuffPost. “It is a testament to the type of culture that we’ve been dealing with, with the supermajority of the Republican legislature in Tennessee.”
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