Rep. Pearson and ‘Tennessee Three’ Drawing Support
TENNESSEE TRIBUNE — Deidre Malone, president of the National Women’s Political Caucus Tennessee, noted that Johnson is the group’s past president. “These three advocated for gun reform and school safety issues as elected officials,” said Malone in a statement. “Their constituents voted for them to go to Nashville to represent their interest. The legislature should NOT remove them from office for doing what they were elected to do: be the voice of those they represent.”
Rep. Justin Pearson and two other Democratic state legislators – now being called the “Tennessee Three” after their involvement in a House protest that has triggered an ouster move by Republicans – are getting mounting support.
Pearson, along with Democratic Reps. Gloria Johnson and Justin Jones face possible expulsion for taking to the front of the House and chanting back and forth with gun control supporters, who packed the gallery days after The Covenant School shooting in Nashville that killed six people, including three children.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican, quickly promised the lawmakers would face consequences, warning he would not allow them to set a new precedent for breaking decorum.
Three Republicans members filed resolutions to expel Johnson, Jones and Pearson and successfully set the deciding vote for Thursday.
In Memphis, a caravan of supporters was set to head for the state capitol early Thursday morning.
Pearson and Jones are both first-term lawmakers. Johnson has served in the House since 2019 after previously being elected to the chamber for a term in 2013. All three have been highly critical of GOP leadership.
In a released statement, the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators voiced its objection to “any effort to expel members for making their voices heard to end gun violence. This political retribution is unconstitutional and, in this moment, morally bankrupt.”
The Caucus statement also included this reference:
“The people who elected us are calling for meaningful action to end gun violence and the people have a right to be heard through their duly elected representatives. The House Speaker should be leading a real, bipartisan discussion to generate reforms that could stop the next school shooting.”
House Minority Leader Karen Camper described her Democratic colleagues’ actions as “good trouble,” a nod to late U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ guiding principle on civil disobedience.
“When I saw thousands of people – mostly children and teenagers – protesting and demanding action from us after the slaying of six innocent people, including three 9-year-old children, it was impossible to sit idly by and continue with business as usual,” Pearson wrote in a letter to House members on Monday.
House Democrats, who number just 23 vs. 75 Republicans, say the GOP is more eager to take action against colleagues than address gun access and other systemic issues that led to the fatal shooting in Nashville.
In Memphis, students have been demanding action, with some walking out.
The Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher, founder of UPTheVote 901, voiced support for growing efforts to back Pearson, Johnson and Jones and those calling on the lawmakers to act affirmatively to curb gun violence.
“It is the people responding to the ridiculous and regressive white nationalist congressional supermajority,” he said. “They seek to expel duly elected congressional officials for exercising their duly protected First Amendment right to protest. It’s only right that the people show up, stand up and speak up in support of Pearson, Jones and Johnson.
“In fact, if the expulsion passes in a completely partisan vote, the entire Black Democratic Caucus should protest on the House floor and force them to expel them all.”
Deidre Malone, president of the National Women’s Political Caucus Tennessee, noted that Johnson is the group’s past president.
“These three advocated for gun reform and school safety issues as elected officials,” said Malone in a statement. “Their constituents voted for them to go to Nashville to represent their interest. The legislature should NOT remove them from office for doing what they were elected to do: be the voice of those they represent.”
She said the trio’s voices should be heard and called upon the House to “act in the best interest of this state’s residents and make gun reform and school safety a priority.”
Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the State NAACP Conference, said, “These elected officials are doing their jobs advocating for gun reform laws in our state. These laws continue to put us all in danger. …
“The NAACP State Conference stands with these elected officials and are asking residents across the state of Tennessee to call and email the Leader Sexton and ask him to rescind his efforts….”
Congressman Steve Cohen, a former state senator, said he understands “the need for compliance with rules in a legislative body. But I would hope that the Tennessee House leadership would consider a lesser consequence for members whose passion on the issue of gun violence in the wake of the Covenant School shootings may have briefly clouded their concern for decorum.”
In his released statement, Cohen added that the expulsion of Pearson, Johnson and Jones would result in “the disenfranchisement of their constituents in Memphis, Knoxville and Nashville who voted for them, and result in the unnecessary expense of primary and general elections. While I appreciate that order must be maintained in a legislative chamber, the heightened emotions prompted by the horrific Covenant School shootings should be a mitigating factor in any disciplinary response.”
If Johnson, Jones or Pearson are expelled, the county commissions in their districts would get to pick replacements to serve until a special election in several months. The three would remain eligible to run in those.
(This story includes a report by the Associated Press.)