Restored Tennessee Rep. Pearson charts progressive path

Apr 18, 2023, 12:25 PM

State Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, smiles as he responds to questions during an interview at his...

State Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, smiles as he responds to questions during an interview at his office Monday, April 17, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

(AP Photo/George Walker IV)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — the conversation on gun regulations.

Activism had yielded results for years for the son of a preacher and a teacher. At age 15, he prodded a school board to get his Memphis high school more textbooks. After college, he fought a planned oil pipeline through wetlands and poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods in the city’s south. The project was canceled in 2021.

The push to boot want to adjourn soon, possibly this week.

Meanwhile, it’s hard not to look ahead for Tennessee Democrats. The attention has attracted the kind of campaign cash that has eluded them for years.

“I think there’s a new awakening that’s happening,” Pearson told The Associated Press in an interview Monday. “And we’re going to be able to consistently build on that, because the issues that we’re fighting aren’t going away, and the people who are fighting aren’t going away, either.”

Pearson was expelled for was spared by one vote. Jones and Pearson have since been restored.

Pearson said his activism and oratory came partly “through osmosis” — from his mother, an English teacher, and his father, a preacher — as he “grew up financially poor, but spiritually rich.”

He briefly attended school in a wealthy Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., and realized that, by comparison, the school he attended in Memphis lacked resources. On his return, Pearson said, he held up his mother’s bachelor degree and his algebra book before school board officials, asking how students could ever get a degree without enough textbooks. Days later, he showed up at school to more books.

“I remember walking in, and it’s just like, ‘Oh, so this is change?’” Pearson said. “You take an issue, you raise your voice, you explain the injustice, you fight for it.”

Pearson attended Bowdoin College in Maine, then returned to Memphis and helped lead a winning fight against the planned oil pipeline through southwest Tennessee and north Mississippi. The Memphis City Council was considering an ordinance to make it harder for the company to build the pipeline, but no vote occurred before the cancelation.

Republican state lawmakers noticed.

In 2022, they largely stripped the ability of local governments to stop oil and gas pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Pearson, who lobbied against the bill, helped secure some amendments. But he said the GOP’s legislative supermajority showed its “punitive” attitude toward left-leaning cities.

“The problem with that entire legislative process was the pipeline was canceled before we passed any laws locally,” Pearson said. “And so, it’s trying to have an overcorrection to something that wasn’t a correction.”

Pearson subsequently won a primary election for the seat left open after Rep. Barbara Cooper died. With no general election opponent, local officials installed him early on an interim basis.

Republican legislative leaders chastised the Democrats targeted for removal for breaches of decorum and rules — House Majority Leader William Lamberth said Thursday that “you can’t step into the well, whip out a bullhorn and start yelling at folks.”

Pearson said the move represented more than a miscalculation.

“I think the Republican Party of Tennessee was hoping that expelling us would somehow expel our fight, and they were wrong,” Pearson said. “It wasn’t just a miscalculation. It was the result of anti-democratic behavior that has become aligned to this Republican Party.”

A day after the expulsions, Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy from Connecticut said he had helped to raise $425,000 for Pearson and Jones. It’s unclear how high the amount has grown nearly two weeks later.

Tennessee’s Democratic Party on Friday told prospective donors it had raised almost $400,000 in one week.

Sitting lawmakers can’t take campaign cash during legislative sessions, but Pearson and Jones were able to go on a dayslong fundraising spree at the height of their popularity because Republican lawmakers kicked them out. It’s unclear how much they raised.

Pearson said the wave of attention and campaign donations presents “a responsibility, an obligation and an opportunity.”

The Republican supermajority in the House has allowed the GOP to waive rules to fast-track certain bills, cut off debates and more. Johnson, the third lawmaker targeted for expulsion, said Democrats must try to elect enough progressive lawmakers to affect change.

“We’ve got to get 10 seats,” Johnson told the AP last week. “We need to get 10 folks who are going to speak up, and stand up, and not bow down to the supermajority.”

Democrats have struggled to recalibrate since Phil Bredesen lost to Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn in 2018 by nearly 11 percentage points, despite being a popular, moderate former governor. Only Nashville-Davidson County and Memphis’ Shelby County voted against Gov. Lee’s 2022 reelection.

Pearson wants to see more organizations and resources in the state focused on preventing gun violence and boosting other progressive issues, along with the “political activation” of young people.

“I’m hopeful that we will be able to use resources to keep our fight going and to get progressive voices in the state of Tennessee and the state Legislature,” Pearson said, “because there are a lot of people in our communities who can speak no more because they suffered from the effects of gun violence.”

National News

Associated Press

California investigating whether DeSantis involved in flying asylum-seekers from Texas to Sacramento

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Officials were investigating Tuesday whether Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis was behind a flight that picked up asylum-seekers on the Texas border and flew them — apparently without their knowledge — to California’s capital, even as faith-based groups scrambled to find housing and food for them. About 20 people ranging in age […]

1 day ago

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, center, poses for a selfie after a town hall style meeting a...

Associated Press

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie set to launch 2024 presidential bid at New Hampshire town hall

NEW YORK (AP) — Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is set to launch his bid for the Republican nomination for president at a town hall in New Hampshire on Tuesday evening. The campaign will be the second for Christie, who lost to Trump in 2016 and went on to become a close on-and-off adviser […]

1 day ago

This booking photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections shows Michael Tisius. Tisius ...

Associated Press

Missouri man facing execution for killing 2 jailers in failed bid to help inmate escape in 2000

A man who shot and killed two rural Missouri jailers nearly 23 years ago during a failed bid to help an inmate escape is set to be executed Tuesday evening. for killing Leon Egley and Jason Acton at the small Randolph County Jail on June 22, 2000. Tisius’ lawyers have urged the U.S. Supreme Court […]

1 day ago

FILE - E. Jean Carroll arrives at Manhattan federal court, Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in New York. Donal...

Associated Press

Trump’s lawyers say defamation claim by NY writer must fail because jury agreed he never raped her

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York writer who won a $5 million jury verdict against ex-President Donald Trump can’t win a pending defamation lawsuit against him because the jury agreed with Trump that he never raped her, his lawyers told a judge Monday. The lawyers urged Judge Lewis A. Kaplan to reject columnist E. […]

1 day ago

Crowd members listen to a speaker during the "Unions Strike Back" rally, Friday, May 26, 2023, near...

Associated Press

Hollywood actors guild votes to authorize strike, as writers strike continues

Actors represented by the Hollywood union SAG-AFTRA voted Monday evening to authorize a strike if they don’t agree on a new contract with major studios, streamers and production companies by June 30. The guild, which represents over 160,000 screen actors, broadcast journalists, announcers, hosts and stunt performers, begins its negotiations with the Alliance of Motion […]

1 day ago

FILE - A man walks past a Microsoft sign set up for the Microsoft BUILD conference, April 28, 2015,...

Associated Press

Microsoft will pay $20M to settle U.S. charges of illegally collecting children’s data

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Microsoft will pay a fine of $20 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it illegally collected and retained the data of children who signed up to use its Xbox video game console. The agency charged that Microsoft gathered the data without notifying parents or obtaining their consent, and that […]

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Men's Health Month...

Men’s Health Month: Why It’s Important to Speak About Your Health

June is Men’s Health Month, with the goal to raise awareness about men’s health and to encourage men to speak about their health.

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Restored Tennessee Rep. Pearson charts progressive path