After several hours of debate, two Tennessee Democrats were expelled from the Tennessee General Assembly by the Republican supermajority-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday.
The third state representative facing expulsion held her seat by a margin of only one vote on a historic day in the Tennessee legislature. The close vote came as a shock, as eight Republican lawmakers broke ranks to vote against the expulsion of Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knox County.
Resolutions to expel the members were introduced on April 3 after the lawmakers led protesters with a bullhorn in chants calling for tighter restrictions on gun rights while on the House floor. This came after the deadly Covenant School shooting in Nashville the week before.
The move to expel members is particularly rare in Tennessee, where only two other members have been expelled from the chamber since the Civil War. Those votes, however, were largely bipartisan, in stark contrast to the expulsion of two Democrats on party lines.
A Historic Day Unfolds
The first representative to lose his seat was Rep. Justin Jones of Nashville. Later in the evening, Rep. Justin Pearson of Memphis lost his seat in the body. Both removal votes were along party lines, with all of the chamber’s Democrat members voting against expulsion.
The third Democrat who faced expulsion retained her seat with 65 of the necessary 66 votes to expel her.
Hundreds of protestors spent upwards of ten hours on the Capitol grounds in Nashville and just outside the House chamber—the rowdy crowd could be heard chanting throughout the day.
The loudest roar from the crowd came at the end of the evening, just before 7:00 p.m. local time, following the expulsion of Pearson, who gave a fiery final speech promising to “not quit.”
Both expelled members can be reappointed to their seats by officials in their respective counties, which in Nashville and Memphis are Democrat strongholds in an otherwise red state. They cannot be expelled again for the same offenses, members said during debate Thursday.
By Chase Smith