NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville Democrat Justin Jones, a member of the so-called “Tennessee Three,” won back his state House seat Thursday after Republican lawmakers expelled him for his participation in a pro-gun control protest in the Capitol.
Jones, 27, defeated Republican candidate Laura Nelson.
Along with Jones, fellow Democrat Justin Pearson, 28, was also vying to reclaim his House seat in Memphis against independent candidate Jeff Johnston after also being expelled in April.
The young Black lawmakers were reinstated by local officials after being booted from the GOP-dominated Statehouse, but only on an interim basis. They needed to clear a special election in order to fully take back their legislative positions.
Thursday’s election comes as lawmakers are preparing to return to Nashville later this month for a special session to address possibly changing the state’s gun control laws. While Jones and Pearson’s reelection to their old posts won’t make a significant dent to the Republican supermajority inside the Legislature, they are expected to push back heavily against some of their GOP colleagues’ policies.
Jones and Pearson were elected to the Statehouse last year. Both lawmakers flew relatively under the radar, even as they criticized their Republican colleagues’ policies. It wasn’t until this spring that their political careers received a boost when they joined fellow Democrat Rep. Gloria Johnson in a protest for more gun control on the House floor.
The demonstration took place just days after a fatal shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville where a shooter killed three children and three adults. As thousands of protesters flooded the Capitol building to demand that the Republican supermajority enact some sort of restrictions on firearms, the three lawmakers approached the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn, and joined the protesters’ chants and cries for action.
Republican lawmakers quickly declared that their actions violated House rules and moved to expel their three colleagues — an extraordinary move that’s been taken only a handful of times since the Civil War.
Ultimately, Johnson, who is white, narrowly avoided expulsion while Pearson and Jones were kicked out by the predominantly white GOP caucus.
The Legislature then refused to take up Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to place some limits on people considered a threat to themselves on others from accessing firearms. In return, the Republican governor quickly announced that he would hold a special session starting Aug. 21 to once again attempt to woo hesitant GOP members to vote for his proposal.