State reps. Justin Jones (left) of Nashville and Justin J. Pearson of Memphis held a moment of solidarity in the rotunda outside of the legislative chamber on Thursday where hundreds of constituents gathered to support the lawmakers ahead of a house vote on their expulsions. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50
Tennessee House representatives Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson overwhelmingly won the primaries for their special district elections. Both are running in historically Democratic counties and are likely to resecure full terms in August. In April, the two young Black lawmakers were expelled from the Republican-held state House of Representatives in a move widely criticized as extreme and undemocratic.
Earlier this year, Jones, Pearson, and Gloria Johnson staged an informal protest against lax gun laws in the aftermath of the Covenant School shooting, the deadliest such incident in the state of Tennessee in years. In a move decried by President Biden as “Shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent”, the Tennessee Republicans voted to expel the Black duo, while Johnson, a White woman conveniently escaped their wrath. Only two representatives had ever been expelled by the House since the time of the Civil War.
Jones and Pearson were reinstated by their respective local councils shortly afterwards, but the two are now required to run in special elections under the state law. This week, both Jones and Pearson carried the Democratic primaries with overwhelming margins. Pearson defeated challenger David Page while Jones ran unopposed.
Pearson will now face independent Jeff Johnson and Jones Republican Laura Nelson on August 3. Nelson, who also ran unopposed, received only 250 votes compared to Jones’ 1,500.
Pearson has a long history of advocating for the control of assault firearms in the state. He has already sponsored more than a dozen gun-related proposals to the House, and is hopeful about the prospects for the future. Referring to a special session on gun violence and gun control called by Governor Bill Lee this summer, Pearson contended: “We should not be campaigning right now. We should be preparing completely for special session. It’s due to the unjust actions of the Republican Party that we are having to run again.”
For his part, Jones reacted to the news on Twitter:-
The special elections are expected to cost Nashville and Memphis citizens $120,000 and between $375,000 and $500,000 respectively. They are also likely to be a long-term PR nightmare for the Republican Party of Tennessee.