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Expelled to reinstated: Pearson to return to Tennessee House

Apr 12, 2023, 10:09 PM

Justin Pearson celebrates with supporters after being reinstated to the Tennessee House of Represen...

Justin Pearson celebrates with supporters after being reinstated to the Tennessee House of Representatives by the Shelby County Board of Commissioners building in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Republicans expelled Pearson and Rep. Justin Jones last week over their role in a gun control protest on the House floor. (Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal via AP)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The second of two Black Democrats expelled from the Republican-led Tennessee House will follow his colleague in a return to work at the Capitol on Thursday, a week after their banishments for a gun control protest on the House floor that propelled them into the national spotlight.

Justin Pearson was easily reappointed to his position by Shelby County commissioners Wednesday, and delivered a speech like a fiery pastor to a throng of jubilant supporters outside in a churchlike celebration. The Memphis lawmaker plans to be sworn in outside the Capitol on Thursday before returning for the House floor session that morning.

Republicans expelled Pearson and Rep. Justin Jones last week over their role in a gun control protest on the House floor after a three children and three adults dead.

The appointments are interim and special elections for the seats will take place in the coming months. Jones and Pearson have said they plan to run.

The House’s vote to remove Pearson and Jones but keep white Rep. Gloria Johnson drew accusations of racism. Johnson survived by one vote. Republican leadership denied that race was a factor, however, and noted that Johnson’s role in the protest didn’t involve some steps that Jones and Pearson took, including speaking into a bullhorn.

On Monday, the Nashville Metropolitan Council took only a few minutes to unanimously restore Jones to office. He was quickly reinstated to his House seat the same day.

The expulsions last Thursday made Tennessee a new front in the battle for the future of American democracy. In the span of a few days, the two raised thousands of campaign dollars, and the Tennessee Democratic Party had received a new jolt of support from across the U.S.

Political tensions rose when Pearson, Johnson and Jones, from the House floor, joined with hundreds of demonstrators who packed the Capitol last month to call for passage of gun control measures.

As protesters filled the galleries, the lawmakers approached the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn and participated in a chant. The scene unfolded days after the shooting at the Covenant School, a private Christian school. Their participation from the front of the chamber broke House rules because the three did not have permission from the House speaker.

In Tennessee, Republican lawmakers have been more supportive of the idea to strengthen school safety than to address gun control as they prepare to finish their work in the coming weeks.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has avoided commenting on the lawmakers’ expulsion and instead said the controversy was an issue concerning the House. He has since called on the General Assembly to pass legislation that would keep dangerous people from acquiring weapons.

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Expelled to reinstated: Pearson to return to Tennessee House