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Two former black Democratic lawmakers who were ousted by fellow Republicans in Tennessee say they want to be reappointed, then re-elected to their seats, after they were ousted for a House protest demanding passage of gun control measures following a school shooting murder.
The Nashville Metro Board is likely to re-appoint Justin Jones to the seat at a specially called meeting on Monday. The Shelby County Commission plans to announce soon when it will meet to fill the position left vacant by the expulsion of Justin Pearson. Likewise, the commissioners can reinstall Pearson, who is from Memphis.
The two former lawmakers told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program on Sunday that they wanted to return to their duties as lawmakers. Special elections for the seats, which have not yet been set, will follow in the coming months.
The evictions made Tennessee a new front in the battle for the future of American democracy. Former lawmakers quickly attracted high-profile supporters. President Joe Biden spoke with them and Vice President Kamala Harris visited them in Nashville.
“You know, we will continue to fight for our constituents,” Jones said. “And one thing I just want to say…is this attack on us hurts everyone in our state. You know, even though it disproportionately affects black and brown communities, it hurts poor white people. Their attack against democracy hurts us all.”
In separate votes on Thursday, the Republican supermajority ousted Jones and Pearson, a decision leaving about 140,000 voters in mostly black districts of Nashville and Memphis without representation in the House.
Pearson and Jones were expelled in retaliation for their role in the protest the previous week, which unfolded following a school shooting in Nashville that killed six people, including three young students and three adults working at school. The shooter was killed by the police.
A third Democrat, Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, was spared by a one-vote margin. Johnson is white, sparking uproar over the differing results for the two young black lawmakers. Republican lawmakers who split their votes cited Johnson’s arguments that her role in the protest was less – she didn’t speak into the megaphone, for example.
Johnson also suggested race was likely a factor in why Jones and Pearson were ousted, but not her, telling reporters that “it might have to do with the color of our skin.”
Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton said it was a “false narrative”.
“It’s unfortunate, she’s trying to put political racism in there, when there was nothing about it,” Sexton told Fox News on Friday.
Republican leaders said the eviction actions — used only a handful of times since the Civil War — were necessary to avoid setting a precedent that House interruptions by lawmakers would be tolerated.
Pearson said the Statehouse was a “toxic work environment”. He noted the scrutiny he received for wearing a black dashiki – a tunic-like garment originating from West Africa – for the session, rather than a suit and tie.
“It’s about us who don’t belong in the institution because they’re afraid of the changes that are happening in our society and the voices that are being raised,” Pearson said on “Meet the Press.”
Expelled black Tennessee lawmakers seek seats again
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