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‘You Can’t Expel Our Voice’: Second Black Tennessee Lawmaker Ousted After Gun Protest, Reinstated By County Commission After Triumphant Vote, Claps Back at Critics

Members of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted to reinstate former state Rep. Justin Pearson after he was expelled by the Tennessee House of Representatives last week.

Pearson will resume his post representing the Memphis district and regain his seat in the House.

Although the vote led to a celebration, Pearson had warned of rumors that the GOP-majority Legislature will withhold over $300 million in funding to Shelby County if he is reinstated — leaving him uncertain about what will happen in Wednesday’s vote.

Three Tennessee Lawmakers Face Expulsion After Joining Gun Protest
NASHVILLE, TN – APRIL 06: Democratic state Rep. Justin Pearson (R) of Memphis speaks with supporters after being expelled from the state Legislature on April 6, 2023, in Nashville, Tennessee. Pearson and fellow Democratic Reps. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville and Justin Jones of Nashville were brought up for expulsion for leading chants of protesters from the floor in the wake of a mass shooting at a Christian school in which three 9-year-old students and three adults were killed by a 28-year-old former student of the school on March 27. Pearson and Jones, who is also Black, were expelled while the vote against Johnson, who is white, fell one vote short. (Photo by Seth Herald/Getty Images)

Pearson and his colleague Justin Jones were expelled from the House on Thursday, April 6, by Republicans who said they broke decorum rules by staging a demonstration for gun reform on the House floor. Jones was reinstated on Monday, April 10 after the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County unanimously voted for him to assume the interim position for his vacant seat.

“When we went to the well of the House myself, Rep. (Gloria) Johnson and Rep. Jones, we said we have an allegiance to a people, people who are tired of business as usual,” Pearson said while surrounded by a cheerful crowd on Wednesday. “We do not speak alone. We speak together. We fight together. So a message for all the people in Nashville who decided to expel us: You can’t expel hope. You can’t expel our voice. You sure can’t expel our fight.”

Pearson was elected to the House in January during a special election and was only recently sworn in before he was ousted from his seat.

Mickell Lowery, chairman of the Shelby County Commission, initially released a statement calling for the vote.

Lowery noted that the protest at the State Capitol that caused Pearson’s expulsion was “understandable given the fact that the gun laws in the State of Tennessee are becoming nearly non-existent.”

Adding, “It is equally understandable that the leadership of the State House of Representatives felt a strong message had to be sent to those who transgressed the rules.”

“However, I believe the expulsion of State Representative Justin Pearson was conducted in a hasty manner without consideration of other corrective action methods,” Lowery said.

While Pearson was hopeful he will be restored to his seat by those in leadership in his district, he also believed their votes might come at a cost. In an interview with Jackie Padilla at Politico, he said there are whispers that the governor’s office and other legislators will withhold hundreds of millions of dollars from his district if they vote him back in.

“The truth is state legislators and people in the governor’s office, I’ve been told, are threatening to withhold over $300 million of funding to Shelby County and Memphis if I am reinstated,” he said. “But the voices of the people are clear. They want and deserve to have a restoration of representation their representation in District 86, which was taken from them because their representatives stood up and spoke up for six people in Nashville who will never have the chance to speak again.”

Leaders in the state’s Republican party released a statement regarding the expulsion of Jones and Pearson and how the state Constitution “provides a pathway back” for them.

House Majority Leader William Lamberth and Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison tweeted on Monday, “Tennessee’s constitution provides a pathway back for expulsion. Should any expelled member be reappointed, we will welcome them. Like everyone else, they are expected to follow the rules of the House as well as state law.”

In addition to the reminder that reappointed members must “follow the rules,” the Republicans stated their position on the mass shooting both Jones and Pearson were protesting, which caused them to be expelled.

“Our state endured a horrific tragedy on March 27 that will never be forgotten,” it read. “We continued to mourn the six lives lost as we pray for healing. We remain focused on solutions that ensure every child and parent feel safe in every community across the Volunteer state.”

Jones and Pearson were expelled for advocating tougher gun laws in the state, a week after a shooter fired 152 rounds in the Covenant Christian School, killing three adults and three children.

These six have been added to the 11,668 Americans who have been killed by gun violence since the start of 2023. According to the Gun Violence Archive, approximately 115 shooting deaths occur each day in the United States.

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