Members of the Tennessee House of Representatives voted to expel Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson on Thursday due to their involvements in a March 30 protest at the State Capitol.
The Republican supermajority expelled Jones by a 72-25 vote and Pearson by 69-26. Both representatives are Democrats.
A third Democrat, Rep. Gloria Johnson, avoided expulsion by a 65-30 vote, one shy from the two-thirds minimum requirement to expel a member of the Tennessee House.
The lawmakers protested inside the State Capitol building three days after a mass shooter killed three nine-year-old students and three adults at The Covenant School in Nashville. Protestors expressed their demands for stricter legislation on gun policy.
There were no reports of injuries, damages or arrests following the protest, but police officers needed to clear paths for lawmakers to access the chamber and other facilities.
The lawmakers, now coined “The Tennessee Three” by some, were among the protestors. They entered the House chamber and stood behind the podium while using a bullhorn. Protestors disrupted legislative procedures for 45 minutes before Speaker Cameron Sexton ordered security to clear the area.
In a radio interview on March 31, Sexton said the lawmakers tried to “cause an insurrection.”
“Representative Jones and Representative Johnson have been very vocal about January 6th … and what they did today was at least equivalent, maybe worse.”
All three lawmakers lost ID access to the building and their committee assignments prior to the votes to expel them.
After Johnson was not expelled, cheers erupted from protestors as she spoke to them and media members. Johnson did not use the bullhorn while protesting, but she believed racism may have instead been the impetus for the differing outcomes.
“I’m a 60-year-old White woman, and they are two young Black men,” Johnson said. “I was talked down to as a woman, mansplained to, but it was completely different from the questioning that they got.”
Jones spoke to a crowd of supporters after his expulsion with Pearson and Johnson behind him.
“They thought they won today,” Jones said. “But they don’t realize what they’ve started.”
“We said, ‘We want a ban on assault weapons.’ They said, ‘We’re going to assault democracy.’”
Pearson defended his actions and claimed, “Sometimes … you’ve got to go to the well of democracy and demand that democracy be true for everybody, not just for rich white people in suits.”
Jones and Pearson promised to return to the House on Monday and urged protestors to join them.
Both members can return to office if their county commissions vote for them to be reappointed. They can also run for election in 2024, and their districts may hold special elections to fill the vacant seats.
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