Monday, Sep 25, 2023

Tennessee Republicans expelled a Democratic legislator who protested with anti-gun activists in the House

Tennessee Republicans expelled a Democratic legislator who protested with anti-gun activists in the House

On Thursday, US President Joe Biden chided the Tennessee Republicans leading the expulsion efforts, calling the move "undemocratic."
A week after they participated in a protest in the Tennessee House of Representatives, GOP state representatives voted to expel state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson.

The Tennessee House voted 72-25 on Thursday to expel Jones, with Rep. Justin Pearson also expelled after a 69-26 vote, according to CNN.

They're two of three Democrats in the Tennessee House of Representatives —both Black — who led a protest with a megaphone on March 30 to call for gun law reform after a shooter killed six people at a private elementary school in Nashville just days prior.

At the protest last Thursday, Jones, alongside Democratic state Reps. Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson, walked towards the floor's podium between bill debates, shouting without having permission to address the chamber, which is not allowed under the rules of the legislature.

On Thursday, the motion to expel Rep. Johnson (a white woman) failed with the vote tally reaching 65-30.

Protestors flanked the chamber's galleries and chanted for gun reform, along with the three lawmakers, and a recess was called within minutes. After the action, Republican House leadership in the legislature introduced three nearly identical motions to expel the representatives.

"I want to stop the guns before they ever get to the schoolhouse doors," Johnson told Insider last Thursday, after the protest. "Not ready for a war when they get there. Let's keep them from ever getting there. We can do that."

Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton said on Monday that the actions committed by the Democrats in the House of Chambers "are and always will be unacceptable." Following the raucous protest last week, he compared the three Democrats to insurrectionists who violently attempted to stop the certification of the 2020 election results and chanted about killing the likes of former Vice President Mike Pence and then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"What they did today was equivalent, at least equivalent, maybe worse depending on how you look at it, to doing an insurrection in the State Capitol," Sexton said.

Expelling someone from the Tennessee House of Representatives is a rare occurrence and requires two-thirds of members to vote in favor to expel someone. Republicans in the state control the House by a large margin — of the 99 seats in the Tennessee House, 75 are held by Republicans, 23 by Democrats, and one is vacant.

Only two members of the Tennessee House have been expelled over the last 157 years. One, according to CNN, was in 1980 after the body found the representative guilty of accepting a bribe. The second was in 2016 over sexual harassment allegations.

Jones noted the rarity of his expulsion in a speech in the Tennessee House of Chambers on Thursday, pointing out that former domestic abusers and an "admitted child molester" harmoniously worked in space without an expulsion.

Until Jones' seat is filled in a special election, his county commission can appoint an interim lawmaker. This can also be, according to NPR, the expelled member. Jones could also return to his former seat after running for office again.

President Joe Biden addressed the Tennessee House leadership's focus on expelling the three, calling the move, "undemocratic."

"Three kids and three officials gunned down in yet another mass shooting. And what are GOP officials focused on?" Biden tweeted on Thursday. "Punishing lawmakers who joined thousands of peaceful protesters calling for action. It's shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent."

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