Democrats Want Seats Back

Expelled Tennessee lawmakers hope to be reappointed, then elected again
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 9, 2023 5:15 PM CDT
Democrats Want Seats Back
From left, expelled Rep. Justin Pearson, Rep. Gloria Johnson, and expelled Rep. Justin Jones raise their fists as they walk across the Fisk University campus Friday after hearing Vice President Kamala Harris speak.   (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Two Democratic lawmakers who were expelled by Republican colleagues in Tennessee say they want to be reappointed, then elected back to their seats following their ouster for a protest on the House floor urging passage of gun-control measures. Nashville's metro council is likely to reappoint Justin Jones to the seat during a specially called meeting Monday, the AP reports. The Shelby County Commission plans to announce soon when it will meet to fill the vacancy left by Justin Pearson's expulsion. Likewise, commissioners can reinstall Pearson, who is from Memphis. Both former lawmakers told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that they want to return to their positions as lawmakers. Special elections for the seats, which have yet to be set, will follow in the coming months.

The expulsions have made Tennessee a new front in the battle for the future of American democracy. The former lawmakers have quickly drawn prominent supporters. President Biden spoke with them, and Vice President Kamala Harris visited them in Nashville. "This attack against us is hurting all people in our state," Jones said Sunday. "You know, even though it is disproportionately impacting Black and Brown communities, this is hurting poor white people. Their attack on democracy hurts all of us." In separate votes on Thursday, the GOP supermajority expelled Jones and Pearson, both of whom are Black, in a move leaving about 140,000 voters in primarily Black districts in Nashville and Memphis with no representation in the House.

A third Democrat, Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, was spared expulsion by a one-vote margin. Johnson is white, spurring outcry at the differing outcomes for the three lawmakers. She's suggested race was likely a factor on why Jones and Pearson were ousted but not her, telling reporters it “might have to do with the color of our skin." Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton said Friday that's a "false narrative." Pearson said the statehouse has been a "toxic work environment." He noted the scrutiny he received for wearing a black dashiki—a tunic-like garment that originated in west Africa—for session, rather than a suit and tie. "It's about us not belonging in the institution because they are afraid of the changes that are happening in our society, and the voices that are being elevated," Pearson said on Meet the Press.

(More Tennessee stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.