Tennessee Democrats Expelled from State House for Gun Reform Protest – a Chilling Attack on Democracy and Racism
The Tennessee state House of Representatives voted to expel two Democratic representatives, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, on April 8th, after they participated in a nonviolent protest against gun violence on the House floor. The protest was in response to the recent mass shooting at a Nashville school that left three children and three staff members dead. The two lawmakers, both Black men, were accused of breaching decorum rules by using a bullhorn and chanting for gun reform. Another member of the so-called “Tennessee Three” who participated in the protest, Gloria Johnson, a white woman, narrowly avoided expulsion by one vote. The vote to expel Jones and Pearson, which was supported by almost every Tennessee House Republican, marks the first partisan expulsion in the state since the Civil War era.
The move has been widely condemned as a chilling attack on democracy and a blatant act of racism. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have spoken out against the expulsion, as has the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland. Former Rep. Justin Jones called it an attempt to “crucify democracy” and said it had instead resurrected a movement led by young people to restore it. Vice President Kamala Harris made an unexpected visit to Nashville on April 9th to meet with the ousted lawmakers, the state’s Democratic caucus, and gun-control advocates.
The racial dynamic of the expulsions was not lost on anyone, including Johnson. She insisted that she was spared expulsion due to racism, ignoring distinctions raised by her and her supporters that she did not use a bullhorn and separated herself from the protesters. Johnson’s distinctions swayed one member to defeat expulsion, but she then declared the result was evidence of sexism and racism. Jones noted that a state in which the Ku Klux Klan was founded was attempting another power grab by silencing two of the youngest Black representatives and one of the only Democratic women in the body.
The expulsions have uncertain consequences, and special elections will be held to permanently fill both seats. Their old campaign websites have been rebooted and their fundraising accounts are now open again, as Jones and Pearson have already taken action. The responsibility of calling for a new election lies with Republican Governor Bill Lee and setting deadlines falls under the state party's jurisdiction. However, it is probable that the primary election will occur by the end of summer and the general election will take place in the autumn. As a result, the duo will be the center of attention for a significant portion of the year.
The vote to expel Jones and Pearson is a chilling portent of the future of Republican governance and the state of democracy nationwide. The move to silence dissent and quash peaceful protest is a dangerous one, and it is incumbent upon all of us to speak out against it. We cannot allow our democracy to be sacrificed on the altar of partisan politics and racism.
0. “Tennessee Democrats expelled from state House: It says something pretty critical about the future of Republican …” Slate, 7 Apr. 2023, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2023/04/tennessee-democrats-expelled-republican-governance.html
1. “Former GOP Senator Opposes Expelling Tennessee Dems” Rolling Stone, 9 Apr. 2023, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/former-gop-senator-opposes-expelling-tennessee-dems-scott-brown-1234712001
2. “Tennessee Democrat says expulsions ‘more of a control issue than racist’” The Hill, 10 Apr. 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/3941575-tennessee-democrat-says-expulsions-more-of-a-control-issue-than-racist/
3. “Ousted Tennessee lawmakers say move is ‘attempt to crucify democracy'” The Guardian US, 9 Apr. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/apr/09/tennessee-legislature-expulsion-nashville-shooting
4. “Kamala Harris fails to meet Nashville survivors, marking new White House low” New York Post , 9 Apr. 2023, https://nypost.com/2023/04/09/kamala-harris-fails-to-meet-nashville-survivors-marking-new-white-house-low
5. “‘I was screaming before you interrupted me’: American politics has become amplified rage” The Hill, 8 Apr. 2023, https://thehill.com/opinion/judiciary/3940490-i-was-screaming-before-you-interrupted-me-american-politics-has-become-amplified-rage
6. “Tennessee lawmaker says ‘overt racism' by Republicans ousted him” Knoxville News Sentinel, 7 Apr. 2023, https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/politics/2023/04/07/ousting-of-2-black-lawmakers-draws-comparisons-to-tennessee-dark-history/70090875007
7. “Two expelled Democratic Tennessee lawmakers seek reappointments to state legislature” CBS News, 10 Apr. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/justin-jones-jason-pearson-tennessee-house-seek-reinstatement-votes-monday-and-wednesday
8. “Ouster of Tennessee Dems catapults lawmakers to national political fame” POLITICO, 7 Apr. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/04/07/tennessee-dems-fame-gop-00091060