NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In a historic vote, Tennessee Republicans expelled two state House Democrats on Thursday over their actions during last week’s storming of the state capitol building by gun control activists, where Democrats led chants with a bullhorn and disrupted the floor session.
Nashville Democrat Rep. Justin Jones was expelled from the House in a vote of 72-25 and Memphis Democrat Justin Pearson was expelled in a vote of 69-26. Jones claimed that Republicans were leading an “assault” on democracy during his debate on his expulsion and claimed the world was “watching.” During debate, Jones admitted to sneaking a bullhorn into the chamber under his coat, after which he led chants with people sitting in the balcony.
After the expulsion of Pearson, observers in the gallery started screaming at Republicans with at least one protester shedding tears and screaming “shame.”
The votes on expulsion followed the filing of resolutions on Monday against Jones, Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), and Pearson.
A vote to expel Johnson failed by one vote. Rep. Gino Bulso (R-Brentwood) said that the Democrats had tried to “shred the [state’s] constitution with a bullhorn” during debate on the resolutions. Johnson suggested that the reason she was not expelled might have been racially motivated. During his defense, Pearson also attempted to make the debate about race, suggesting that Tennessee Republicans were racist and invoking “black women who stood at the cross” when Jesus was crucified.
Democrats on the floor and protesters in the gallery were emotional as the vote unfolded. Some screamed that the Republicans were turning Tennessee into a “fascist state.” Metro Nashville Council will vote on Monday to choose a new representative for Jones’ district.
The votes came as hundreds of left-wing protesters gathered in Nashville as rain sprinkled down early Thursday morning before the capitol building opened. One group of teachers pushed for gun control and another protested in favor of the Democrats facing disciplinary action.
Capacity was limited but protesters chanted anti-gun slogans and screamed ‘You are fascists!” outside the chamber. Others led chants against House Speaker Cameron Sexton and the Republican Party while cheering for the lawmakers facing discipline. When Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) spoke, the crowd outside the chamber screamed “F*** you, fascists!”
Demonstrators booed Republican lawmakers as they walked by. Many of the protesters appeared to be high school students and women.
Pearson and Jones both made brief appearances outside the chamber where they encouraged protesters. Jones told the crowd that the influence of the NRA needed to be shut out of Tennessee. The two Democrats appeared to enjoy the attention with both smiling and Pearson bowing to the crowd.
Sam, a protester from Hermitage, told The Daily Wire he was there to support Jones, his representative. He said that while he supported citizens owning handguns and had a concealed carry permit, he opposed civilians owning “assault rifles.”
Other protesters chanted pro-gun control slogans and declared the state House to be “Our House.” Protesters with The Equity Alliance led chants about “the Tennessee three” while other demonstrators had pro-abortion hats. Organizers passed out signs that read “fighting fascism is a moral obligation.”
The demonstrators also adopted the classic Christian song “I’m Going To Let It Shine,” but changed the lyrics to be about democracy.
Earlier in the day, as protesters screamed from outside, lawmakers passed a bill that improves funding for public and private schools.
We just passed a comprehensive school safety bill, HB 322.
*Requires all outer doors to be locked.
*Conduct armed intruder drills.
*Requires a threat assessment team.
*Increased training for security.
*Measures for new schools.
More to come! pic.twitter.com/5kAqB4DPWE
— Rep. Jason Zachary (@JasonZacharyTN) April 6, 2023
The three Democrats were also kicked off their committees by Sexton, who told The Daily Wire earlier this week that “their actions deserved to be disciplined, and what they did was a breach of House rules, they need to be held accountable.”
During a raucous protest against gun rights last Thursday, the three Democratic lawmakers went unrecognized to the “well,” where lawmakers speak on the House floor and took out a bullhorn and started leading the protesters in chants.
Lamberth, the Republican leader, told The Daily Wire that the disruption was unprecedented.
“It’s never been that three state representatives attempted to incite a riot in the middle of the House floor. It’s dangerous, it’s inappropriate, and it silences the other 96 members,” he said.
Sexton said that the lawmakers wanted to be arrested and wanted the attention for themselves, adding that the disruption was “planned.”
Tensions at the capitol have been high as Tennessee reels from the murder of six people at a Christian school in Nashville last week by a woman who identified as transgender. In response, Gov. Bill Lee has proposed providing funding for schools in Tennessee to have armed guards and reiterated support for a bill that would increase security measures at schools across the state.