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Tennesee House Voting In Expulsion Of Two Black Democrat Lawmaker

Tennesee House Voting In Expulsion Of Two Black Democrat Lawmaker over Gun Reform Protest(Photo: KRDO)

A week after the three Democrats led a gun control protest in the chamber, Tennessee’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to expel two Black lawmakers – but failed to remove a third representative – in an extraordinary, emotionally charged session marked by tense exchanges and punctuated by boos and chants from spectators.

Tennessee’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to expel two Black lawmakers – but failed to remove a third representative – in an extraordinary(Photo: CNN)

Gallery Audience Erupted In Boos And Chants In The Wake Of  Expulsions

When the vote count came up just short in the attempt to remove Rep. Gloria Johnson, the gallery audience erupted in boos and chants in the wake of both expulsions and loud cheers. Seven hours passed during the meeting.

Jones’ rule violations were decided 72-25 along partisan lines, while Pearson’s were decided 69-26. Johnson voted 65 to 30. A two-thirds majority of all members must vote to expel someone from the House.

On Thursday as the session to vote on the expulsions – a step the state House has taken only twice since the 1860s – was about to start, protesters angry with inaction on gun violence reform following a deadly mass shooting at a Nashville school flooded the state Capitol.

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Expulsion Might Have Something To Do With The Color Of Skin

Jones stated: “We called on you all to ban assault weapons and you respond with an assault on democracy” during the discussion surrounding his expulsion.

When asked why Jones, a Black Filipino, won the election and Johnson, a White woman, did not, Johnson responded that it might have something to do with the color of our skin.

According to CNN affiliate WSMV, the three lawmakers led a protest on the House floor last Thursday without being recognized and used a bullhorn as demonstrators at the Capitol urged lawmakers to act following the shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, which killed three 9-year-olds and three adults. Following last week’s protests, each legislator was relieved of their committee assignments.

Each resolution stated that the lawmakers “knowingly and intentionally brought disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives,” claiming that they “began shouting without recognition” and “proceeded to disrupt the House Representatives’ proceedings” for just under an hour Thursday morning.

The resolutions removed the two lawmakers from office under Tennessee Constitution Article II, Section 12, which states that the House can set its own rules and “punish its members for disorderly behavior, and expel a member with the concurrence of two-thirds.”

Expulsion votes, according to the president, are ‘undemocratic.’
In a tweet, President Joe Biden criticized the events in Nashville.

“Three children and three officials were killed in yet another mass shooting.” And what are GOP officials concentrating on? Punishing legislators who joined thousands of peaceful protesters in demanding action. “It’s shocking, undemocratic, and unheard of,” he wrote.

Republicans opened the debate on Thursday by playing a video of the protest last week, which showed Jones, Johnson, and Pearson standing in the House well and using the bullhorn to address their colleagues and protesters in the gallery.

Democrats objected to the footage being shown, claiming it was unfair because they had not seen the video and had no idea how heavily it had been edited.

Following Jones’ expulsion, Democratic Whip Jason Powell, who represents Nashville, raged that the House was devoting too much time to the expulsion issue.

“I had to leave here Monday night after this resolution was introduced and go to my son’s Little League field and see red ribbons surrounding the outfield in memory of William Kinney who was murdered,” he said, his voice rising. “We need to do something, and removing Justin Jones is not the solution.” It is a danger to democracy.”

Republicans have a large majority in the Tennessee House, with 75 members to Democrats’ 23. One seat is open. The legislature will return to work on Monday, with two committee meetings and the full House session beginning at 5 p.m. CT.

Jones promises to return.

Jones stood firm in his defense and used his time in the well to call for action on gun control legislation.

“Whether I’m in that chamber or outside,” Jones told reporters, “I will continue to show up to this Capitol with these young people.”

Those in the Capitol gallery booed and raised their fists after Jones was expelled. When Pearson was ousted, they booed again, and as a vote to recess was taken, crowds gathered in the chambers could be heard chanting, “Shame on you.”

The Capitol was filled with applause after the failed vote to expel Johnson.

Johnson thanked and encouraged the crowd gathered around the building to vote. “Keep showing up, standing up, and speaking out,” she added, “and we will be with you.”

Pearson told reporters after the meeting that he hopes to be re-appointed.

“I hope to be re-appointed to the state legislature by the Shelby County Commissioners, and I know many of them are upset about this White supremacist-led state legislature’s anti-democratic behavior,” he said.

Jones and Pearson may be able to reclaim their seats because local governments can vote to fill vacancies through appointments and then hold special elections.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper tweeted Thursday night that the districts of Jones and Pearson were “disfranchised today.”

“I’m proud that Metro Council will meet Monday to fill the vacancy left in Nashville by today’s vote, and I believe they’ll send (Jones) right back to continue serving his constituents,” said the tweet.

Expulsions are extremely rare.

Only two lawmakers have been expelled from the House in the last 157 years, requiring a two-thirds vote: in 1980, after a representative was found guilty of accepting a bribe while in office, and in 2016 after another was expelled over allegations of sexual harassment.

Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton stated that peaceful protesters have always been welcome to the capitol to have their voices heard on any issue, but that Democratic lawmakers’ actions had hampered that process.

“In effect, those actions removed the protestors’ voices, the focus on the six victims who died, and the families who lost their loved ones,” Sexton said in a series of tweets Monday.

“We cannot allow the three members’ actions to divert our attention away from protecting our children.” We’ll get through this together, and discussing all options will be necessary,” Sexton said.

During the debate on Thursday, Democratic Rep. Joe Towns referred to the expulsion as a “nuclear option.”

“You never kill a gnat with a sledgehammer,” Towns said. “We should not go so far as to expel our members for fighting for what many citizens want, whether you agree with it or not.”

To some, the vote to expel Johnson, Jones, and Pearson was a diversion from the real issue: ensuring the safety of children.

“I want people to understand that this is a child issue, not a political issue,” Deborah Castellano, a first-grade teacher in Nashville, told CNN. “If you wash away Democrat and Republican, it’s about kids and whether or not we want them to be safe.” I will stand in front of children and use my body to protect as many as possible… but we shouldn’t have to, and those children shouldn’t be afraid.”

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