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Tennessee’s GOP-controlled House of Representatives voted Thursday to expel one of three Democratic members for participating in a contentious gun reform protest in the State House last week, but failed to expel the second of the three—and House members are prepared to vote on expelling the third Democrat, marking the chamber’s first expulsions in years.
Tennessee’s House voted 72-25 to expel Democratic Rep. Justin Jones, marking a rare scenario in which a legislator is thrown out of office by their peers, multiple outlets reported.
A vote to expel Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson was just one vote shy of meeting the two-thirds majority needed to expel a representative, with 65 representatives voting in favor of the measure and 30 voting against it—Johnson, who is white, later told reporters she believes the difference in the vote count “might have to do with the color of our skin” (Jones and Johnson are Black).
Rep. Justin Pearson will also face an expulsion vote.
The three lawmakers are facing scrutiny a week after protesting for gun reform on the floor of the House chamber.
Jones, who represents part of Nashville, argued the votes bring Tennessee “back to some dark, dark place” and are an “attempt to silence” the constituents Jones, Johnson and Pearson represent.
Johnson, a representative from Knoxville, Tennessee, said attending the protest was what she felt “compelled in [her] heart to do for [her] constituents,” when asked by Republican state Rep. Gino Bulso if her conduct was “wrongful.”
Bulso, in his line of questioning, argued the Democratic representatives’ attendance at the protest and usage of sings with political messages constituted “disorderly behavior” in violation of Tennessee law.
Resolutions filed Monday to expel the three representatives were approved 72-23, with proposals that indicated the trio “did knowingly and intentionally bring dishonor and disorder” to the House,” adding they “began shouting without recognition” and disrupted proceedings of the House.
Pearson wrote a letter to House members defending a decision to protest and said they were exercising their First Amendment rights.
If ousted, a special election would be held to fill the empty House seats, though all three former representatives can also run and return to office.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton said their participation in the protest “took away the voices of the protestors,” broke “rules of decorum and procedure” on the House floor and took the focus away from the victims of the recent Covenant School mass shooting.
Tennessee’s legislature has ousted a number of its lawmakers in its history. Six House members were voted out in 1866 after they tried to prevent the state from ratifying the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to The Tennessean. The House voted 92-1 to expel Rep. Robert Fisher (R) in 1980 after he was convicted of accepting bribes to squash pending legislation. Rep. Jeremey Durham (R) was ousted after a 2016 investigation by The Tennessean unveiled allegations of sexual misconduct by the lawmaker. The Senate has only expelled one of its members previously, after it voted to remove Sen. Katrina Robinson (D) last year after she faced federal charges for wire fraud.
A crowd protested at the Tennessee statehouse last week, calling for gun reforms after three children and three adults were killed during a mass shooting at Covenant School last month. Jones, Johnson and Pearson stood together on the House floor as Jones spoke through a megaphone and held a sign which read, “Protect Kids Not Guns.” Jones said a decision to protest came after he says they were “repeatedly being silenced about talking about the crisis of mass shootings” and that the House “could not go about business as usual” while protestors were outside. Jones was previously banned from the statehouse after he participated in a protest calling for the removal of a bust of confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, according to the Associated Press.
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