“Let’s send a clear message to anyone who thought they could silence the voice of District 86,” Pearson tweeted earlier this month. “You cannot expel a movement!
Thursday’s election came as lawmakers prepare to return to Nashville later this month for a special session to possibly address changes to the state’s gun control laws. While the re-election of Jones and Pearson to their former positions will not make a significant dent in the Republican supermajority inside the Legislature, they are expected to strongly push back against some of the policies of their colleagues in the GOP.
Jones and Pearson were elected to the Statehouse last year. Both lawmakers flew relatively under the radar, even as they criticized the policies of fellow Republicans. It was only this spring that their political careers received a boost when they joined fellow Democrat Gloria Johnson in a protest for increased gun control in the House.
The protest came just days after a fatal shooting in Nashville at a private Christian school where a gunman killed three children and three adults. As thousands of protesters swarmed the Capitol building to demand that the Republican supermajority enact some sort of gun restriction, the three lawmakers approached the front of the House chamber with a megaphone and stood up. along with protesters’ chants and calls to action.
Republican lawmakers were quick to declare their actions violated House rules and moved to expel their three colleagues — an extraordinary move that has been made only a handful of times since the Civil War.
The move briefly left about 140,000 voters in mostly black districts of Nashville and Memphis without representation at Tennessee House.
In the end, Johnson, who is white, narrowly avoided expulsion while Pearson and Jones were expelled by the predominantly white GOP caucus.
House Republican leaders have repeatedly denied that race was a factor in eviction hearings. Democrats disagreed, with Johnson countering that the only reason she wasn’t kicked out was because she was white.
The evictions drew national support for the newly dubbed “Tennessee Three”, particularly for Pearson and Jones’ fundraising campaign. The two have raised more than $2 million combined through approximately 70,400 campaign donations from across the country. The amount is well beyond the norm for Republican legislative leaders in Tennessee and virtually unheard of for two freshman Democrats in a superminority.
Meanwhile, more than 15 Republican lawmakers had funneled money to fund the campaign efforts of Jones’ Republican opponent Nelson. Nelson raised over $34,000 for the race. Pearson’s opponent, Johnston, raised less than $400 for the contest.
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