Thursday night, two Tennessee Democrats who were expelled from the state legislature in April for participating in a gun-control protest regained their seats. According to unofficial results, Representatives Justin J. Pearson (D-Memphis) and Justin Jones (D-Nashville) comfortably defeated their Republican opponents in districts that lean Democratic. Pearson ran against independent candidate Jeff Johnston and won more than ninety percent of the vote. Jones ran against the Republican Laura Nelson and received more than 75% of the vote.
Pearson and Jones, along with Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), were labeled as members of the Tennessee Three after the GOP-led state House voted to expel Jones and Pearson for joining demonstrators demanding stricter gun control legislation at the state Capitol. The protest followed a shooting in Nashville in which three minors and three adults were killed. Johnson, a former teacher who lost a pupil to gun violence, was also targeted for expulsion by Republicans, but she narrowly avoided expulsion by a single vote. When queried by reporters why she believed she had been spared at the time.
Tennessee House Speaker Accuses Democrats of Rule Violations and Disorder
Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) stated that the Democrats had committed multiple violations of the General Assembly’s rules and had knowingly and intentionally brought disorder and dishonor into the House. The Republican supermajority in the House then voted 72-25 to remove Jones and 69-26 to remove Pearson. Pearson and Jones were reinstated by municipal officials in their districts days after their expulsion, but only on an interim basis, requiring them to run for re-election this year.
Jones, age 27, was elected to the Tennessee House for the first time last year. He describes himself as a community organizer and claims to have been detained over a dozen times for nonviolent protests. He has cited the 2020-deceased Georgia Democrat and civil rights leader John Lewis as an inspiration. Pearson, age 28, is an environmental activist who, according to his official website, grew up in Memphis as the fourth of five sons to adolescent parents. In January, he was elected and criticized by conservatives for wearing a dashiki to his inauguration.
Both candidates’ platforms highlighted environmental threats to low-income communities, gun reform, health care expansion, and living wages.