Memphis panel unanimously votes to reinstate state Rep. Justin Pearson to Tennessee House

A Memphis, Tennessee, panel voted unanimously on Wednesday to reinstate state lawmaker Justin Pearson, who along with fellow Democrat Rep. Justin Jones, rose to national recognition and earned praise from the White House after getting booted from the Republican-run state legislature for using a bullhorn and speaking out of turn on the House Floor. Democrats Pearson, Jones and Rep. Gloria Johnson, who have been called the “Tennessee Three,” interrupted a House session on March 30, just three days after a shooting conducted by a transgender activist at a Christian school left three 9-year-olds and three adults dead. All three lawmakers faced possible expulsion for “disorderly behavior,” though Johnson, who is White, did not use a bullhorn to rally gun control protesters. MEMPHIS PANEL TO VOTE ON REINSTATING JUSTIN PEARSON OF ‘TENNESSEE THREE’ WEDNESDAY, REJOINING JUSTIN JONES Johnson was not expelled and survived by one vote, but Jones and Pearson, both of whom are Black, were expelled by the House. Tennessee House Republicans denied allegations of racism after expelling the Black lawmakers. On Wednesday, the seven-member panel of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted to unanimously approve Pearson’s reinstatement to the state position during a special meeting in Memphis. Board members suspended all rules, including holding off on public comment until after the meeting was adjourned, to allow commissioners to vote immediately. EXPELLED TENNESSEE LAWMAKERS RIPPED FOR BLAMING RACISM ON EXPULSION: ‘THREW YOU OUT FOR VIOLATING THE RULES’ Once the vote was delivered, members of the panel shared words of encouragement for Pearson. “You belong on the national level,” Commissioner Erika Sugarmon told Pearson. “Having said that, we need you here, right now, in this moment to continue to fight for us in Nashville.” Commissioner Miska Clay Bibbs told Pearson she was “extremely proud” of him and to keep up the good work. “Keep up bringing the light to the injustices that are happening, and continue to move on,” Bibbs said, adding that the office received over 5,000 messages speaking on behalf of Pearson. “Keep marching.” NASHVILLE POLICE OFFICERS AT CHRISTIAN SCHOOL SHOOTING GIVE HARROWING FIRSTHAND ACCOUNT OF TAKING OUT SUSPECT  The floor was then handed over to Pearson, who commanded the room full of supporters, like a Baptist preacher shouting the message at his congregation. “Nashville. Nashville thought they could silence democracy, but they didn’t know the Shelby County Commission was filled with some courageous leaders,” he said. “We’ve got a problem in this state. “We’ve got a proliferation of gun violence because of policies and practices and legislation coming from the state legislature of Tennessee.” Pearson then went on to say the legislation aims to remove the permit to carry guns, reduce the age from 21 to 18, and to arm teachers to stop school shootings. He accused Republican legislators of having an allegiance to organizations like the National Rifle Association and continuing to conduct business as usual. “We have an allegiance to our people. People who are tired of business as usual. People who are tired of same old, same old politics. People who are tired of same old, same old politicians,” Pearson said. “We’ve got people we have an allegiance to who are willing to march for justice, Who are willing to fight for justice, who are willing to vote for justice. TENNESSEE LEGISLATOR WHO ESCAPED EXPULSION CLAIMED ‘NORTH KOREA HAS MORE DEMOCRACY THAN WE DO’ “You can’t expel hope. You can’t expel justice. You can’t expel our voice. And you sure can’t expel our fight,” he added, directing his message to Nashville politicians. “Let’s get back to work.” The Shelby County Board of Commissioners, controlled by Democrats on a 9-4 majority, was tasked with determining whether to reinstate Pearson back to the Legislature in Nashville. Two days prior, the Nashville Metropolitan Council unanimously reinstated Jones into office after just a few minutes. Just before the vote, Pearson led a march from the National Civil Right Museum to the county commission’s office in downtown Memphis. In the span of a few days, Pearson and Jones raised thousands of campaign dollars, and the Tennessee Democratic Party received a new jolt of support from across the U.S. Since the Civil War, the Tennessee House has only voted to expel members twice before, according to NBC News. According to state rules, appointments are on an interim basis and Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, must schedule primary elections for Jones’ and Pearsons’ seats within 60 days, with a general election within 107 days. Jones and Pearson said they plan to run in the special election. State House Majority Leader William Lamberth and Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison said in a statement that the state Constitution provides for a pathway back after expulsion, and they would welcome any expelled member who is reappointed provided they follow the rules of the House and state law.  Tensions rose when Pearson, Johnson and Jones joined with hundreds of demonstrators who packed the Capitol last month to call for the passage of gun control measures. As protesters filled galleries, the lawmakers approached the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn and participated in a chant.  President Biden has reportedly extended an invitation to the “Tennessee Three” to visit the White, decrying Jones and Pearson’s expulsions as “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.” Vice President Kamala Harris visited Nashville on Friday to meet with Jones, Pearson and Johnson. Danielle Wallace of Fox News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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