Tenn. House votes to expel Reps. Jones, Pearson; Rep. Johnson will stay

Published: Apr. 6, 2023 at 10:20 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 6, 2023 at 10:53 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Tennessee House of Representatives voted to expel Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson Thursday.

Rep. Pearson (D-Memphis) was expelled after a 69-26 vote.

Rep. Jones (D-Nashville) was expelled after a 72-25 vote.

The vote to expel Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) failed with a vote of 65-30, meaning Johnson will stay in office.

All Shelby County Democrats voted against expulsion for the so called “Tennessee Three” many of them criticizing the process, calling it rushed and a drastic choice.

Shelby County Republicans Tom Leatherwood and Mark White voted for expulsion for all three.

Representative John Gillespie however, voted against expelling Pearson and did not vote when expulsion was on the line from Representative Johnson.

The vote was called Thursday to remove Reps. Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, three Democrats, from the General Assembly. This comes nearly a week after the three joined in on a gun legislation reform protest on the house floor.

This marks the first time ever that the Tennessee House expelled two sitting members on the same day.

Jones and Pearson were the youngest and arguably, most progressive members of the House.

“Moving forward, this is setting a precedent that any member who voices dissent or opposition can be expelled from the legislative body,” Jones said after his expulsion. “This is very unprecedented in Tennessee, and this has never happened before in our history, but what the nation is seeing is that we don’t have democracy in Tennessee and if we don’t act we have some very dark days ahead.”

“We are losing our democracy in the state of Tennessee,” Pearson said following the vote to expel Jones. “...Right now we have on trial in this kangaroo court Rep. Gloria Johnson and her attorneys who they too are seeking to expel right before I speak before they work to expel me, which I expect to happen, too. We are losing our democracy. This is not normal. This is not OK. If you look at what it takes to expel a member, or what it should take, most of the times in the Tennessee state legislature have gotten expelled and the last two times in particular, one guy committed sexual assault against 22 people, the other committed bribery. We broke a House rule because we are fighting for kids who dying from gun violence...?”

Crowds cheered inside the Capitol after Johnson survived the expulsion.

“We have to keep this up. We saw what that body looks like when there are cameras in there... They didn’t stifle our voices at all today, but that’s the first time that’s ever happened,” Johnson said following the vote. “And we did what we needed to do, and I can’t feel good, too good, because of my colleague, Justin Jones, who is an amazing human being who cares so deeply about his community. So I hope every one of you will do everything to help make sure he comes back here. It doesn’t matter where you’re from... you can always help, there’ll be special elections, there’ll be an appointment, no matter where you are. Help. Help. Help. And register to vote right there... No action, no peace, that’s right, and what that means is until you act, we will show up, stand tall, and speak out.”

“Right now, we are still determined to end the gun violence that is plaguing our communities. We are still determined to speak up and to fight on anyhow,” Pearson said following the vote. “This is undemocratic, this is wrong, this is the perpetuation of patriarchy and white supremacy. This is what we knew we were up against, and the people of Memphis and Shelby County still want change, so we are going to continue to still demand change. We are definitely going to run for this position again, and serve in the state legislature, because the people sent us here. The people brought us here, not white supremacy-majority Republicans... this was unjust, this was unfair, this was undemocratic, and they were mad, not because we walked on the House floor breaking decorum, they were mad because we said, ‘We have to do something about gun violence.’”

Pearson also committed to running for District 86 again.

“We are definitely going to run for this position again and serve in this state legislature because the people sent us here,” said Pearson. “The people brought us here. Not white supremacist majority Republicans.”

On Monday, three Democratic state representatives were removed from their committees after they participated in gun control rallies at the Tennessee State Capitol and led a protest on the House floor.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton stands by Thursday’s historic moves.

“At the end of the day, their action was a protest,” said Sexton. “So just be clear we all understand what they did. It was called a protest. You can call it peaceful. You can call it whatever, but they had a protest on the House floor because they wanted to.”

Even before the House proceedings began, thousands flocked to the Capitol, loudly chanting to show their support for the so-called “Tennessee three.” Many traveled from Memphis and Knoxville, areas that Pearson and Johnson represent, and stood in a line that wrapped around the Capitol building to get inside.

Once expelled, the county commissions in their districts would get to pick replacements to serve until a special election in several months. The three would remain eligible to run in those.

Expulsions in the Tennessee General Assembly are extremely rare and considered an extraordinary action.

In 2019, lawmakers faced pressure to expel former Republican Rep. David Byrd after he faced accusations of sexual misconduct dating to when he was a high school basketball coach three decades earlier. Republicans declined to take any action, pointing out that he was reelected as the allegations surfaced. Byrd retired last year.

Last year, the state Senate expelled Democrat Katrina Robinson after she was convicted of using about $3,400 in federal grant money on wedding expenses instead of her nursing school.

Before that case, state lawmakers last ousted a House member in 2016 when the chamber voted 70-to-2 to remove Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham after an attorney general’s investigation detailed allegations of improper sexual contact with at least 22 women during his four years in office.

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