Tennessee Republicans expel two of three Democratic lawmakers who protested on House floor

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Tennessee Lawmaker Expulsion
Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, center, Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, back left and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, huddle on the floor of the House chamber Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Tennessee Republicans are seeking to oust the three House Democrats for using a bullhorn to shout support for pro-gun control protesters in the House chamber. (WHD Photo/George Walker IV) George Walker IV/WHD
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April 06, 08:05 PM April 06, 09:03 PM

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The Tennessee state House voted Thursday to expel state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, both Democrats, over their protests in favor of gun reform on the House floor after the recent Nashville school shooting.

A resolution to expel Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson was also discussed, but it failed to pass. The resolution to expel Jones passed with a 72-25 vote, and the resolution to expel Pearson passed with a 69-26 vote.


Jones said he protested on the floor to represent the 78,000 constituents in Tennessee District 52 that he serves in the House.

“I walked up to the well because you pushed my people back,” Jones said. “We brought a megaphone because you cut our people off, you cut their representatives off from the microphone, time after time after time after time after time again. And there comes a time when people get sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

“At no point was there violence, at no point did we encourage violence. In fact, what we were doing was calling for the end of gun violence,” Jones continued.

Jones said the actions of him and his fellow lawmakers “broke the glass” and disrupted the peace to advocate the lives of their constituents. He called out a Republican lawmaker for saying the three lawmakers disturbed the “sacred chamber” of the House.

“This is not a temple. This is a place where we are supposed to wrestle for our democracy,” Jones said.

The three lawmakers had joined hundreds of demonstrators who arrived at the state Capitol on March 30 and eventually entered, forcing lawmakers to walk through the crowd while they chanted. Later that day, Jones, Pearson, and Johnson stepped up to the podium to echo the protesters’ calls.

Videos taken regarding the March 30 protest on the House floor showed Pearson and Jones taking a megaphone calling for gun control laws and justice, while Johnson stood next to them in solidarity without grabbing the microphone.

Jones said in his speech during the expulsion hearing that the House was focusing on the wrong issues.

“A week after a mass shooting plagued our community, the most direct action this legislative body takes, or should I say my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are taking, is to expel us for speaking about the issues of weapons of war on our streets,” Jones said.

Rep. Karen D. Camper (D) spoke in defense of the Democratic rebels, portraying the vote to expel them as a slight against Democracy itself.

“We’re here today because voices have been silenced. We’re here today because we have a system that says we value a process, yet in that process, particularly in our committees, voices are continuously silenced,” Camper said.

“This is not democracy. Democracy says, ‘Your voice will be heard.’ I served 21 years in the military, and I’d do it again, to protect democracy. I’ve traveled to other countries in the name of democracy,” she continued. “We may not agree with how they decided to elevate the voices. We don’t have to agree. But to expel someone, punish them, then expel them? That’s out of order.”

Rep. Gino Bulso (R) took the opposite view, calling Jones’s move a “mutiny” and demanding that he be expelled.

“It’s clear that [Jones] wants to be expelled. That’s why he refers to all of you as a dishonorable House. We all saw the video of what he did,” Bulso said. “He and two other representatives effectively conducted a mutiny on March 30 of 2023 in this very chamber. Recall that in his opening statement, he called his actions honorable. What that means, ladies and gentlemen, is that the gentleman shows no remorse. He does not even recognize that what he did was wrong.”

“So not to expel him, we simply invite him and his colleagues to continue to engage in mutiny on the House for a mutiny, which to this, this body, in this state, has been unknown in its 227-year history, since we adopted our constitution in 1796,” he continued.

He added that the move wasn’t undemocratic, as Jones could be voted back in by his constituents.

The hearing got heated when Rep. Sabi Kumar (R), an immigrant, accused Jones of calling him a “brownface.” The accusation led to a back-and-forth with Democrat and Republican leaders over whether or not it was on topic and whether or not Jones could respond, concluding with the speaker telling them both to stay on topic.

Near the conclusion, Vice Chairman John Ray Clemmons (D) raised the tension in the room, loudly decrying the House as a “circus,” and telling Republicans to “grow up.”

In his final five minutes of speaking time, Jones promised that he would be back in one form or another.

“My prayer to you is that even if you expel me that you still act to address the crisis of mass shootings, because if I’m expelled from here, I’ll be back out there with the people every week demanding that you act. If you expel me, I’ll continue to show up,” Jones said. “If you expel me, I’ll continue to show up.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

Tennessee Republicans expel two of three Democratic lawmakers who protested on House floor

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