Tennessee Representatives Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, who along with state Rep. Gloria Johnson were dubbed the “Tennessee Three,” regained their seats in the state legislature after being expelled for participating in a gun control protest on the House floor.
They were previously reinstated on an interim basis by local officials and then on Thursday won a special election to fully reclaim their positions. Despite being in a GOP-dominated Statehouse, they were re-elected in districts that mostly support Democrats.
Justin Jones, who lives in Nashville, faced Republican candidate Laura Nelson, while Justin Pearson from Memphis competed against independent candidate Jeff Johnston.
“Let’s send a clear message to everyone who thought they could silence the voice of District 86,” Pearson tweeted earlier this month. “You can’t expel a movement!”
Their election comes ahead of a special legislative session focused on potential changes to the state’s gun control laws. Although their re-election won’t significantly affect the Republican supermajority, they are expected to strongly oppose some of their GOP colleagues’ policies.
Both lawmakers have been in the Statehouse since last year and had been relatively unnoticed until they joined Rep. Gloria Johnson in a gun control protest on the House floor after a tragic shooting at a Nashville school. The protest led to their expulsion as their actions were deemed in violation of House rules.
The expulsions left around 140,000 voters in predominantly Black districts in Nashville and Memphis without representation in the Tennessee House temporarily. Despite Republican leaders denying that race played a role in the expulsions, Democrats disagreed, arguing that race influenced the outcome.
The “Tennessee Three” gained national support during their ordeal, especially Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, who received significant campaign fundraising. They collected over $2 million through about 70,400 donations from across the country, a remarkable amount for freshman Democrats in a superminority in Tennessee’s legislature.