Nashville, Shelby county officials move to reinstate Democrats expelled over protests

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News


Nashville and Shelby county officials are working to reinstate two Democratic state representatives expelled for their role in an anti-gun protest that disrupted a legislative session and forced members of the General Assembly to leave the building.

NBC reported on Friday that 23 members of the 40-seat Nashville Metropolitan Council said that they will hold a vote today to reinstate Democratic Rep. Justin Jones. Vice Mayor Jim Shulman said he expects the council will take action to suspend the rules at the meeting so they can vote on reseating Jones, thus avoiding the typical weeks-long nomination period. 

The Shelby County Commission, meanwhile, will vote Wednesday on the reinstatement of Memphis Rep. Justin Pearson. A third Democrat facing expulsion, Rep. Gloria Johnson, managed to hold onto her seat by one vote.

Special elections to fill the empty seats have not yet been set but are expected to take place in the coming months. Both Democrats have said that they plan to run again.

Tennessee House Republicans said Thursday in a statement that, should Jones and Pearson be “elected to come back and serve their constituents in the Tennessee House of Representatives, we hope they will act … with respect for our institution, their fellow colleagues, and the seat that they hold.”

Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton said that lawmakers will follow procedure, in terms of if or when one or both Democrats are reappointed. 

Sexton lashed out at the three Democrats last week for the active role they played in what several conservative outlets and pundits have labeled “an insurrection.”

“Their actions are and will always be unacceptable, and they break several rules of decorum and procedure on the House floor,” Sexton wrote on Twitter. He accused the three of trying “to make themselves the victims” in the demonstration during which protestors demanded stricter gun control measures in the wake of last month’s mass shooting at a Nashville Christian school. 


President Joe Biden took to Twitter in response to the expulsions, calling them “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.” 

Meanwhile, his second-in-command, Vice President Kamala Harris, said the oustings are a threat to democracy and to “the safety of our children” in a speech at Nashville’s Fisk University on Sunday.

Harris accused Tennessee Republicans of wanting to “silence” dissenting viewpoints and of “not representing the values that we hold dear as Americans.”

“Protocol and procedures were devised to require and allow and encourage debate and discussion and, yes, dissension. But these so-called leaders tried to shut it down instead,” she said, adding “We’re not having that.”  

Democrats have also seized on the expulsions as evidence of Republican racism. Jones and Pearson are both black. Johnson said that the fact that she is white likely saved her from a similar fate. 

“I feel like North Korea has more democracy than we do in the state of Tennessee, and it’s terrifying to me that we’re in this march to fascism,” Johnson told media outlet Mother Jones. The article featured a photo of a tearful Johnson holding a tissue to her eye.

GOP leaders have vehemently denied that race had anything to do with the expulsion votes, pointing out that Johnson played a less active role in the demonstrations, according to the New York Post.  Johnson, for instance, did not join Jones and Pearson in encouraging protesters over a megaphone.