Tennessee's Republican-dominated state House voted to expel two Democratic lawmakers on Thursday for participating in a protest in favor of gun safety legislation on the chamber floor, though a third legislator was unexpectedly spared the same fate. It's likely, however, the two ejected members won't be gone very long.
On nearly party-line votes, Republicans removed Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson from the House for violating rules on decorum last week after they led visitors in the gallery in a chant of "gun reform now" following a school shooting in Nashville that left three children and three adults dead. However, Rep. Gloria Johnson retained her post after Republicans fell one vote short of the two-thirds supermajority needed to expel her, though all three representatives had previously been stripped of their committee assignments.
Johnson had argued that though she stood with Jones and Pearson in the well of the chamber, she did not join in the chant or use the megaphone Jones deployed after Republicans cut off his microphone. Seven Republicans wound up voting against her expulsion, but Johnson herself told reporters afterward that the disparate treatment "might have to do with the color of our skin"; Johnson is white while both Jones and Pearson are Black.
Both may also soon return to the House. Under the Tennessee Constitution, vacancies in the state legislature can be filled by the legislative body in the home county of the lawmaker who needs to be replaced, and there's no prohibition on picking a member who was just expelled. And because these two seats have become vacant more than a year from the next general election, special elections must be held as well—and once again, there's nothing stopping an expelled former legislator from running.
Immediately after Jones' ejection, Nashville's Democratic-leaning Metropolitan Council (which includes surrounding Davidson County) called a special meeting for Monday, at which, says the Nashville Banner's Steve Cavendish, Jones is likely to be reappointed to his former job representing the 52nd District. Democrats also control the county commission in Shelby County, which includes Pearson's hometown of Memphis. The commission's chair said Thursday evening that he will seek to fill the now-vacant 86th District "as soon as possible."
Pearson said he hopes to get restored to his seat and added that he intends to run in the ensuing special election. (Pearson in fact originally joined the legislature via a special just last month.) Both he and Jones would be locks to win again given the heavy Democratic lean of both of their districts. And if they do make it back to the legislature, there's nothing Republicans can do to punish them further since the state constitution also bars expulsion "a second time for the same offense."
Progressives scored a monumental victory in Wisconsin Tuesday night when Janet Protasiewicz flipped a pivotal seat on the state Supreme Court, and we've got plenty to say about it on this week's episode of The Downballot. Not only are the electoral implications deeply worrisome for Republicans, the court's new liberal majority has the chance to revive democracy in the Badger State by restoring abortion rights and striking down gerrymandered GOP maps. It truly is a new day—and one we've long awaited—in Wisconsin.
We're also delving into the fascinating politics of Alaska with our guest this week, former state Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. Jonathan recounts his unlikely journey to the state House after winning a huge upset while still in college before explaining how Democrats, independents, and even a few Republicans forged a remarkable cross-partisan governing coalition. We also get an on-the-ground view of what Mary Peltola's stunning special election victory last year looked like to Alaska Democrats.