In a series of interviews Sunday, the two Black Tennessee lawmakers expelled by their Republican colleagues in the state House last week vowed to return to office via appointment by their local counties and through special elections.
““We’re going to fight to be back in the legislature through the appointment process of the Shelby County Commission, in addition to running for our seat again, too, in the special election to serve district 86 in the statehouse because that’s what the voters want,” former state Rep. Justin J. Pearson, a Democrat who represents parts of Nashville, said on MSNBC’s “Inside with Jen Psaki” on Sunday. “They want advocates who are going to lift up the issues that matter in our community: poverty and health care, education, environment and the end to gun violence.”
Both Pearson and former state Rep. Justin Jones, who represents parts of Memphis, confirmed they would accept the temporary nominations and planned to run for reelection in an earlier Sunday interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Tennessee law doesn’t allow for lawmakers to be expelled for the same reason twice.
The Republican supermajority in the Tennessee House of Representatives expelled the lawmakers on Thursday after they participated in a gun control protest following last month’s shooting at an elementary school in Nashville.
The lawmakers chanted into a bullhorn on the House floor as hundreds of Tenneseeans protested at the state capitol in Nashville. The House speaker, Cameron Sexton, compared the protestors to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol.
A third lawmaker, Rep. Gloria Johnson, a white woman in her sixties who has been in office intermittently over the last decade, stood alongside the two men in the demonstration, but was spared expulsion by a single vote.
Both men are in their late twenties and were elected just months ago. The removals left about 140,000 voters in primarily Black districts in Nashville and Memphis with no representation in the House.
The rule allowing for expulsions has been used twice since Reconstruction, according to “Meet the Press,” once for a lawmaker convicted of bribery and another for allegations of sexual assault.
The protest and expulsions came in the wake of a shooting at a Christian school in Nashville that left three nine year olds and three school employees dead.
“We have to remember that this started because of a tragedy in Nashville. Three nine year olds were killed,” Pearson said on MSNBC. “The Tennessee state legislature, the Republican majority did nothing and said nothing in the wake of that terrible incident.”
“My colleagues and I go into the middle of the house to advance this issue about the need for an end to gun violence and the need for us to stop listening to the NRA more than we’re listening to our people,” Pearson continued.
Vice President Kamala Harris went to Nashville to meet with Pearson and Jones, as well as their former Democratic colleagues, the day after the expulsion votes. President Joe Biden also video-called the three lawmakers, invited them to the White House and called the removals “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent” in a statement.
“The most resounding message we’re hearing from the White House and across the world and from people across this nation, that this attack on democracy will not go on unchallenged,” Jones said on “Meet the Press.” “The Tennesee House Republicans attempt to crucify democracy has instead resurrected a movement led by young people to restore our democracy to build a multiracial coalition.”
“We are in the midst of a third reconstruction here, beginning in Nashville,” Jones added. “This is not the end. Their decision to expel us is not the ultimate authority, but that the people will hold them accountable.”