Tennessee Democratic Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis — two young Black men — were expelled from the state House on Thursday, while Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville — an older white woman — survived the Republican-led attempt to oust the trio who participated in a peaceful gun protest from the floor of the chamber last week.
The demonstration broke out in the wake of the Nashville school shooting that left six people — three children and three school personnel — dead.
But there’s a chance the two could be reappointed to serve in the body by their local county commissions.
“What happened yesterday was a very sad day for democracy,” Jones told “CNN This Morning” on Friday. “The nation was able to see we don’t have democracy in Tennessee.”
Jones called the decision to expel him and Pearson an “attack on democracy” and “very overt racism.”
“They expelled the two youngest lawmakers — which is no coincidence — from the Tennessee legislature because we are outspoken, because we fight for our district,” Jones added.
Shortly after the expulsion was official, Pearson and Jones’s profiles were deleted from the Tennessee General Assembly’s website and their districts are now listed as vacant.
Filling the vacancies now falls to county legislative bodies. Tennessee law allows for the appointment of an interim House member to fill the seats of expelled lawmakers until an election is held.
So the two ousted representatives have a good chance of getting back their seats if they get reappointed as the interim member.
“I think we might have these two young men back very soon,” Johnson said Thursday. “It is my promise to fight like hell to get both of them back.”
Pearson said he hopes to “get reappointed to serve in the state legislature by the Shelby County Commissioners,” adding he knows many “are upset about the anti-democratic behavior of this White supremacist-led state legislature.”
Jones told CNN he would continue to serve if he is reappointed to the seat by the Nashville Metro Council.
“I have no regrets. I will continue to stand up for my constituents,” Jones said.
The vote to expel the Democrats came days after the trio joined demonstrators — mostly children and parents holding signs and chanting — who packed the Capitol building and the House gallery and cheered on the protestors from the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn.
After the protest, state Republicans claimed Jones, Johnson and Pearson “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.”
Republican leadership— including House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) — also equated the peaceful protest to the deadly and violent Jan. 6 insurrection.
Johnson, who survived the vote, joined Jones in criticizing the GOP move as racist in a CNN interview.
“I am a 60-year-old White woman, and they are two young Black men,” Johnson said, adding that Pearson and Jones were questioned in a “demeaning way” by Republican lawmakers before their expulsion.
The White House joined Democrats in condemning the expulsions in a Thursday statement, calling the decisions “shocking, undemocratic and without precedent.”
“Today’s expulsion of lawmakers who engaged in peaceful protest is shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent,” the White House said. “Rather than debating the merits of the issue, these Republican lawmakers have chosen to punish, silence, and expel duly-elected representatives of the people of Tennessee.”