Memphians react to expulsion of former Rep. Justin Pearson

Published: Apr. 6, 2023 at 10:35 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There are now about 45,000 registered voters in Shelby County who do not currently have representation in the Tennessee State House.

Justin J. Pearson (D-Memphis) was expelled from the Tennessee State House Thursday night.

Local lawmakers are vowing to move quickly to make a decision about the empty District 86 seat.

“It’s unbelievable to see what we just saw happen,” said Shelby County Commissioner Charlie Caswell. “I’ll say this... if we could have a special election on this resurrection Sunday, I would be there to vote that this young man to go back to the State House.”

District 86 stretches from South Memphis to Millington, which is now unrepresented in the state legislature.

Rep. Justin Pearson speaks after expulsion from Tenn. House

“It’s heartbreaking, because you have a younger generation perhaps who doesn’t understand proper protocol and decorum, but at the same time, I think it may have been a little excessive, maybe a 30-day suspension or something along those lines,” said Robert Hill, who has lived in District 86 for more than 20 years.

Pearson was elected to the seat in late January after the passing of Barbara Cooper.

Pearson is no stranger to controversy in his short tenure in the House, getting dinged on his first day for wearing a Dashiki on the house floor; decorum calls for a shirt and tie.

However, a more serious infraction came when Pearson, along with Representatives Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) and Justin Jones (D-Nashville), led chants with a bullhorn on the House floor with supporters in the Gallery.

From left, Rep. Justin Pearson, Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Gloria Johnson face expulsion after...
From left, Rep. Justin Pearson, Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Gloria Johnson face expulsion after resolutions were filed on Monday.(WSMV)

Gun violence is an issue that hits home for Pearson’s constituents in Memphis who are dealing with a particularly violent year.

“These young people are getting their hands on these guns, and they’re just killing just to be killing, and I think... someone needs to speak up on that, because it’s ridiculous right now,” said Valencia Calhoun, who has lived in District 86 her entire life.

Calhoun says she understands Pearson broke the rules, but wishes legislators could have come up with another solution other than expulsion.

The next step is for the Shelby County Commission to take steps to fill the now-vacant seat.

Commission Chair Mickell Lowery told Action News 5 via email late Thursday night:

“We will make an appointment as soon as possible. I have directed staff to poll the Commissioners on their availability for a special called meeting.”

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