Expelled Tennessee Lawmakers Overwhelmingly Win Special Elections

Two Democratic lawmakers who were expelled from the Tennessee legislature earlier this year after angering the Republican majority with a protest against gun violence won a special election on Thursday to serve out the remainder of their terms.

Justin Pearson and Justin Jones both beat Republican challengers to reclaim their seats, the Associated Press reported. Republicans in the state’s House of Representatives voted in April to expel the two lawmakers for breaking rules of decorum a by leading a protest inside the House chamber.

In an April interview with Sojourners, Jones said the support of his constituents reminded him that “democracy is going to require all of us.”

“This is the community that I’m a part of and accountable to. I want to make sure I’m representing with the most passion and authenticity the reason I was sent here in the first place,” Jones said.

The expulsions drew nationwide attention to their protest, which came after a gunman killed three children and three adults in an attack at a school in Nashville, the state capital. A third Democrat, Gloria Johnson, joined the protest but narrowly escaped expulsion.

Within a few days, local officials in Pearson’s and Jones’ districts voted to return them to their seats under a provision in the state’s constitution that lets district-level officials fill legislative vacancies until a special election can be held.

Pearson, 28, represents a district in Memphis. Jones, 27, represents a district in Nashville. Both men won their primary elections in June with over 90 percent of the votes, and both are in districts that heavily favor the Democratic Party.

Pearson ran against Jeff Johnston, and Jones ran against Laura Nelson. According to The Tennesseean, Jones won nearly 80 percent of the vote in Nashville, and Pearson won more than 90 percent in Memphis. 

Republicans who expelled the two men said their conduct disrupted the work of the House and that it was a severe breach of decorum rules.

Democrats, including President Joe Biden who hosted the two men and Johnson at the White House in April, said the expulsion was undemocratic and disempowered their constituents in Tennessee’s two largest cities.

Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb, Reuters; and Mitchell Atencio, Sojourners.