Updated Apr 12, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Ousted Tennessee Dem says expulsion “silenced” some voters' voices

Justin Pearson shakes hands with a supporter

State Rep. Justin Pearson shakes hands with a supporter in the House Gallery after being expelled on April 6 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Seth Herald/Getty Images

Tennessee House Republicans' decision to expel two Democratic lawmakers silenced thousands of voters' voices, state Rep. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis) wrote in a New York Times op-ed Wednesday.

Why it matters: The expulsions of Pearson and Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) over a gun reform protest last week has prompted a national outcry, sparking debate about Democratic norms, racism, and gun violence.

Details: Pearson recounted how gun violence has touched his own life.

  • Pearson described a former high school classmate — a "sweet and beloved" coach and middle school secretary — who was fatally shot in Memphis in January. He added that over 10 days in February in the city, 20 people were shot in mass shootings.
  • "Yet, Republican legislators refuse to take meaningful action," Pearson wrote, denouncing their continued efforts to instead expand gun rights.

Pearson described his and Jones' expulsions as an "assault against democracy" and criticized GOP leaders for "berating" him and Jones for participating in an act of civil disobedience.

  • "This, in Tennessee, the birthplace of the Klan, a land stained with the blood of lynchings of my people," he wrote.
  • Pearson wrote that lawmakers elected to represent all Tennesseans — "Black, white, brown, immigrant, female, male, poor, young, transgender and queer" — are often "routinely silenced."
  • "It’s not just our individual voices that were sanctioned and silenced last Thursday. It was the voices of the nearly 135,000 Tennesseans we represented," he added.

What to watch: Jones and Pearson's expulsions will trigger special elections to select permanent replacements, but dates for the elections have not yet been set.

  • For the time being, it's up to local authorities in each district to choose interim representatives.
  • The Shelby County Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to reinstate Pearson. Nashville's Metro Council returned Jones' to his seat in a 36-0 vote Monday.
  • Jones and Pearson plan to run for their seats again during the special elections, they told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

Zoom out: The political fracas comes as the nation continues to contend with the epidemic of gun violence.

  • So far, there have been more mass shootings than days in 2023. As of Tuesday, there have been at least 147 mass shootings in the U.S., according to the Gun Violence Archive.
  • A recent survey revealed that one in five U.S. adults has been personally threatened with a gun, and one in six have witnessed someone being shot, Axios' Sareen Habeshian writes.

The bottom line: "Those who seek to silence us will not have the final say," Pearson concluded in his op-ed.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the results of the Shelby County Commission's vote and to refer to Pearson as a state representative due to his reinstatement.

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