'Tennessee Three': Jones, Pearson expelled, Johnson avoids expulsion by one vote
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Tennessee House of Representatives has decided the fate of three Democratic lawmakers, one week after they broke several House decorum rules and protested for gun control measures.
Rep. Justin Pearson: Expelled
The Tennessee House has expelled Rep. Justin Pearson (D—Memphis) following a 69-26 vote.
Rep. Justin Jones: Expelled
The first representative to face expulsion, Justin Jones (D—Nashville) has now been expelled by the House.
“The people are still demanding action for common sense gun laws, that a week after a mass shooting, the immediate response of my colleagues was not to pass an assault weapons ban or red flag laws, but its to expel their colleague who is demanding that we act, and whether I’m a member on the inside or a community member on the outside, I will continue to stand with the people because this is not the end,” Jones told News 2’s Chris O’Brien after the vote.
Rep. Gloria Johnson: Remains
The motion to expel Rep. Gloria Johnson (D—Knoxville) failed with a vote of 65-30—one vote shy of its passage. Johnson will keep her seat.
What happens now?
The expelled legislator’s home county commission may appoint someone to fill their seat in the interim until their term is expired. After the session has concluded, they could legally run again, so long as they have not been convicted of a felony.
Several members of the Metro City Council say they will vote to reappoint Jones as soon as the council meets again, including Bob Mendes and Freddie O’Connell, who tweeted that the expulsion “is an affront both to lives lost and the will of the voters.”
The Metro Council will have a special meeting on Monday, April 10 to discuss filling the now-vacant District 52 seat.
How did we get here?
Reps. Gloria Johnson (D—Knoxville), Justin Jones (D—Nashville) and Justin J. Pearson (D—Memphis) occupied the well of the House last Thursday during peaceful protests in and around the Capitol building calling for and end to gun violence and the passage of gun control legislation. The protests came in reaction to the mass shooting at The Covenant School that saw six people, including three 9-year-old children, killed.
According to Pearson, he was disallowed from honoring the Covenant School shooting victims during the “Welcome and Honoring” portion of the House floor session that day, and he could not continue hearing the “chants, pleas, and cries of thousands of peaceful children outside our chambers and do nothing—say nothing,” he said in a letter sent to his colleagues.
Johnson reiterated the claim during a press conference Tuesday, saying the three were “tired of our voice not being heard in the morning for Welcome and Honoring.”
“We didn’t get called on for the voucher bill that happened, and we decided between bills we were going to walk up, we were going to acknowledge the people outside surrounding this building, in the rotunda, and we’re going to speak to their issue and tell them that we are with them, because they needed to hear that.”
Jones said he was similarly prevented from speaking on the shooting or gun reform on Twitter: “There comes a time when you have to do something out of the ordinary. We occupied the House floor today after repeatedly being silenced from talking about the crisis of mass shootings. We could not go about business as usual as thousands were protesting outside demanding action.”
All three lawmakers faced other penalties, including having their badges disconnected and losing access to the Cordell Hull building and parking access. Johnson and Jones were also stripped of their committee assignments.
By Monday morning, Republican lawmakers in the House had drafted three resolutions of expulsion: one for each of the three Democrats who took to the well and disrupted the regular business of the House.
All three resolutions state the lawmakers “shouted, pounded on the podium, led chants with citizens in the gallery, and generally engaged in disorderly and disruptive conduct, including refusing to leave the well, sitting on the podium, and utilizing a sign displaying a political message,” all of which are prohibited by the Permanent Rules of the House of Representatives. According to the resolutions, the disruption lasted from approximately 10:50 to 11:42 a.m. Thursday.
While the resolutions were filed Monday, they had to be approved by the House Tuesday, which the Republican supermajority in the House did in short order, but the final vote on whether to accept them and formally expel the Democrats had to wait until the next day of session today.