Two Democratic lawmakers expelled, what’s next?

What to expect in the State House as two seats are now vacant.
Former Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and former Rep....
Former Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and former Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, raises their hands outside the House chamber after Jones and Pearson were expelled from the legislature Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)(George Walker IV | AP)
Published: Apr. 7, 2023 at 8:32 AM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Two Democratic lawmakers were expelled from the House during a special vote on Thursday.

State Representative Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and former State Representatives Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, and Justin Jones, D-Nashville, all faced expulsion this week. Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, said all three should face punishment after they disrupted the House session during a gun reform rally at the state Capitol.

Former Rep. Pearson and former Rep. Jones lost their House seats following the vote, but Rep. Johnson was allowed to keep her position.

What’s Next?

The expulsion vote leaves two empty seats in the House, which will be filled through a special election. Until the election occurs, Metro Council will elect an interim successor to serve.

The interim successor will be elected by council members during a special meeting on Monday, April 10. During the meeting, former Rep. Justin Jones will have the opportunity to be re-appointed.

According to council member Emily Benedict, Jones will lose that opportunity if as few as two council members object.

Nashville leaders are already planning to see Jones return to his district seat. Mayor John Cooper wrote that he believes Metro Council will allow Jones to return and continue serving his constituents.

Several council members, including Bob Mendes, Freddie O’Connell, Zach Young, and Kyonzte Toombs, voiced on Twitter that Jones had their vote.

A meeting will be held by the Shelby County Board of Commissioners to fill the position left by former Rep. Justin Pearson, but there has been no word on when that meeting will take place.

Republicans feel strongly that the removal of Jones and Pearson was the right decision.

“I would not treat Representative Jones any differently than I have from the beginning,” Jody Barrett said.

Barrett voted to expel both Jones and Justin Pearson, but not Johnson on Thursday.

“Ultimately, I think that what the two gentlemen, in particular, were trying to create was chaos on the House floor,” Barrett said. “If they come back, I think we’ve set a precedent that this type of activity is not acceptable as a member of the House of Representatives.”

WSMV4 asked why Barrett chose to expel Pearson and Jones as opposed to less severe measures like centering them or stripping them of committees. Barrett said as a body, the house was put in a position where one option was not severe enough and another option seemed too severe.

“There wasn’t much of a middle ground,” Barrett said. “But you still needed to be able to punish them in order to send the message.”

Barrett went on to say he doesn’t want the media or the country to think that there is some racial divide in the House of Representatives.

“Let’s just be clear that we all understand what they did,” said Speaker Sexton. “They had a protest against House policy on the floor because they wanted to.”

“Their actions are and will always be unacceptable,” Speaker Sexton wrote in a tweet on April 3.

Rep. Gloria Johnson narrowly survived the vote and kept her House seat, but she was stripped of her committee positions.

The Tennessee GOP released the following statement in regard to the expulsion vote: “Nashville Tennessee House Republicans decided to uphold the rule of law and remove 2 Democrat State Representatives that disrupted and protested the legislative process on March 30th, 2023. Their adolescence and immature behavior brought dishonor to the Tennessee General Assembly as they admitted to knowingly breaking the rules. Actions have consequences, and we applaud House Republicans for having the conviction to protect the rules, the laws, and the prestige of the State of Tennessee.”