Image courtesy of USA Today
By David Moretti
After being ousted by GOP lawmakers, Tennessee state representatives Justin J. Pearson and Justin Jones have been reinstated to the Tennessee House of Representatives.
The two black lawmakers had been ousted by the Republican-controlled Tennessee house for participating in a protest on the chamber floor following a shooting at the Covenant School. The protest called for stricter gun control legislation, which the Tennessee state legislature strictly opposed.
Along with Pearson and Jones, another Democratic representative, Gloria Johnson, participated in the floor protest but narrowly avoided expulsion in the days after the demonstration.
Justin Jones was the first representative to be reinstated following the demonstration. In a unanimous vote, the Nashville city council voted to reappoint Jones to the seat he once held, and protesters marched alongside him back into the House.
While marching, those alongside Jones chanted, “Whose House? Our House.” Upon his entrance back into the chamber, his fellow Democratic representative Antonio Parkinson introduced him as “our newest member.”Jones was also met with cheers during his march and subsequent entrance.
While standing on the steps of the state Capitol, Jones said, “Today we are sending a resounding message that democracy will not be killed in the comfort of silence. Today we send a clear message to Speaker Cameron Sexton that the people will not allow his crimes against democracy to happen without challenge.”
Pearson was the second lawmaker to be reinstated following his expulsion after the Shelby Board of Commissioners voted to reappoint him to his original seat. Before this vote, the Board also voted to suspend a rule requiring a waiting period before confirming Pearson to the House.
“You can’t expel our voice and you sure can’t expel our fight. We look forward to continuing to fight, continuing to advocate,” said Pearson to a cheering crowd following the meeting where he was reinstated.
Pearson told the crowd in another call to make change within the Tennessee legislature, “The status quo needs changing, and the status quo needs you.”
On April 9, following the shooting, Pearson said, “The Republican-led supermajority of the Tennessee General Assembly sought to have a political lynching of three of its members because we spoke out of turn against the status quo of the government, after the tragic deaths of six people in the shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville.”
Rep. Johnson, a white woman, was noticeably not expelled following this demonstration, a fact that was mentioned by Jones and Pearson and added to the tension surrounding the expulsions.
Justin Jones has stated that he will file the 15 bills he is allowed to put forward soon after his reinstatement. “Every one of those bills are going to have to do with common sense guns laws,” he said. “Every single one of those bills going to have to do with that, because that’s what these young people are begging us to do.”
The expulsion and reinstatement of these two lawmakers show the growing divide in local and state governments between the increasingly far-right GOP and the younger generation of Democrats.