As promised, Tennessee House Republicans on Thursday held votes to expel three left-wing Democrat lawmakers for breaking House rules when they joined a disruptive gun-control protest on the chamber’s floor.
The GOP, which holds a supermajority in the House, expelled Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) on a 72-25 vote, and Rep. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis) by 69-26, but fell short of achieving the two-thirds majority needed to oust Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) by one vote, the Tennessean reported.
The expulsions were effective immediately.
The effort to expel Johnson failed on a 65-30 vote, with six Republicans breaking with their party to vote against her expulsion.
On March 30, Pearson and Jones, both freshman lawmakers who had previously clashed with leadership on other issues this session, walked up to the House podium during a floor session and using a bullhorn began leading gun reform chants, echoing the shouts of protesters packed into the Capitol rotunda. The pair, later flanked by Johnson, grew frustrated as House leadership moved on to regular business just days after the mass shooting.
Unlike Jones and Pearson, Johnson reportedly did not use the bullhorn to encourage the gun control mob.
As lawmakers debated Thursday night, hundreds of agitators protested the expulsions and called on the GOP to pass gun control laws.
The demonstrators staged a “die-in” when the session ended, Thursday.
Student protestors ended the night with a die-in. #TennesseeThree pic.twitter.com/qeNbCpm4zw
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) April 7, 2023
Republicans insisted the expulsions were necessary to protect the integrity of the House and its rules.
“This is just not about one specific instance or one specific rule that may have been broken. The rules here are for order,” said Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, who led the GOP arguments against Jones. “We owe that to the constituents that we represent across this state.”
“Your extreme measure is an attempt to subvert the will of voters who democratically elected us as representatives to speak and to passionately fight for them,” Jones said in response.
According to the Tennessean, the two could technically return to the House within days.
The Tennessee Constitution allows a county governing body to appoint an interim representative in the case of a vacancy, an authority General Assembly Republicans could not easily revoke.
An expulsion does not disqualify a former representative from running for office, which could mean one of the expelled lawmakers could be appointed interim, run for reelection and be reseated in the General Assembly within months.
Rep. Gino Bulso, R-Brentwood, repeatedly stated Jones wanted to be expelled, but noted the Constitution would allow him to elected again after expulsion. “If after looking at his conduct, they vote he come back, we will recognize him as a representative,” Bulso said, referring to the floor protest as a “mutiny.”
Earlier this week, Jones reportedly accused Bulso of calling him a “damned disgrace” in a private moment.