Two Tennessee Democrats who were expelled from the state’s GOP-controlled House over a gun control protest ― only to be reinstated days later on an interim basis ― won back their legislative seats Thursday night.
State Rep. Justin Jones beat Republican candidate Laura Nelson, and state Rep. Justin Pearson beat independent candidate Jeff Johnston.
The two first-term lawmakers were expelled in April after they joined demonstrators in calling for stronger gun control following a Nashville school shooting that left three children and three adults dead.
Hundreds of protesters ― many of them kids ― took to the House floor on March 30 to call for an end to gun violence, along with Pearson, Jones, and another Democrat, state Rep. Gloria Johnson. Resolutions to expel the three members, introduced by House Republicans, alleged that the trio “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House.”
Pearson and Jones, who are Black, were both ousted. Johnson, who is white, was spared.
During his expulsion hearing, Jones defended his actions.
“I was standing for those young people … many of whom can’t even vote yet, many of whom are disenfranchised, but all of whom are terrified by the continued trend of mass shootings plaguing our state and plaguing this nation,” said Jones, who represents a district in Nashville.
“We called for you all to ban assault weapons, and you respond with an assault on democracy,” he added.
The House Republicans’ stunt quickly backfired. Just days after Jones’ expulsion, the Nashville Metropolitan Council voted 36-0 in favor of reinstating him on an interim basis. Two days after that, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted 7-0 to also reinstate Pearson on an interim basis.
“You can’t expel our voice, and you sure can’t expel our fight,” Pearson told a crowd of supporters following his reinstatement.
Adding to the House GOP’s humiliation, Pearson and Jones raised a combined total of more than $2 million through about 70,400 campaign donations from across the country following media coverage of their expulsions.
By comparison, Nelson raised more than $34,000 for her race against Jones. Johnston raised less than $400 in his contest with Pearson.