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Expelled Tennessee Democrats Trounce GOP Opponents in Special Elections

The GOP had kicked out State Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson for participating in a gun control protest.

Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones, state Rep. Gloria Johnson, and state Rep. Justin Pearson speak with members of the press after meeting with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office on April 24, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Two Tennessee Democrats who were expelled by the GOP-controlled state House earlier this year for taking part in a gun control demonstration on the chamber floor won special elections for their seats on Thursday, handily fending off Republican opponents.

State Rep. Justin Jones, who represents Nashville, defeated GOP challenger Laura Nelson with nearly 80% of the vote. State Rep. Justin Pearson of Memphis defeated his Republican opponent, Jeff Johnston, with more than 90% of the vote.

“The people have spoken,” Jones wrote following his victory, directing his message at Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican who led the charge to expel Jones and Pearson.

“See you August 21st for special session,” Jones added, referring to an upcoming session called by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to address gun violence.

The Tennessee House voted to expel Jones and Pearson in April after the pair and fellow state Rep. Gloria Johnson — who was not expelled — took to the chamber floor with a bullhorn to demand gun control legislation in the wake of a deadly mass shooting in Nashville.

Republicans decried the floor action as a breach of decorum rules and swiftly voted for Jones and Pearson’s expulsion. A vote to expel Johnson, who is planning to challenge U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) next year, fell just short of the two-thirds majority needed.

The expulsion of Jones and Pearson sparked national outrage, with hundreds of state lawmakers and rights groups across the U.S. condemning Republicans’ move as an anti-democratic effort to silence gun control supporters. Tennessee has the 12th-highest gun death rate in the U.S., according to the advocacy group Everytown.

Within days of the expulsion vote, county officials reappointed Jones and Pearson on an interim basis, setting the stage for Thursday’s special election.

In a statement late Thursday, Pearson said that “this is only the beginning for this movement.”

“We will organize, mobilize, and activate to work tirelessly for the day when there are no more calls to respond to mass shootings and gun violence,” said Pearson. “I look forward to heading back to the Tennessee state capitol August 21 for the special session on gun legislation. We, the people, will march, rally and work to pass legislation.”

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