Republicans who control the Tennessee House of Representatives voted on Thursday to expel Representative Justin Jones, the first of three Democratic members facing expulsion for their role in a gun control demonstration at the statehouse last week.
Republican Representatives Andrew Farmer, Gino Bulso, and Bud Hulsey filed three resolutions on Monday to expel their Democratic colleagues and all three resolutions have already passed preliminary votes along party lines.
The body on Thursday voted 72-25 along party lines to oust Jones. Votes on the expulsion of Representatives Gloria Johnson and Justin Pearson were expected later in the afternoon.
Last Thursday’s protest saw hundreds of demonstrators flood into the statehouse four days after a Nashville school shooting ended with three 9-year-old children and three school staff members dead.
Three Democratic lawmakers stood on the House floor and used a bullhorn to lead protesters in chanting demands for stricter gun laws. Republicans in the resolutions calling for their expulsion accused the three of engaging in “disorderly behavior” and said they “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.”
Johnson, Jones and Pearson have said that taking part in the protest was within their First Amendment rights – the constitutional right to freedom of speech.
“What we see here today is a lynch mob assembled not to lynch me but our democratic process,” Jones said as he delivered his defense before the vote.
“At no point was there violence,” Jones added, referring to the demonstration he and his colleagues led on the chamber floor last week. “At no point did we encourage violence. In fact what we were doing was calling for the end of gun violence that is terrorizing our children day after day after day.”
But Representative Gino Bulso, a Republican who authored one of the expulsion resolutions, said it was clear to him that Jones “wants to be expelled.”
“He and two other representatives effectively conducted a mutiny,” Bulso said. “Not to expel him would simply invite him and his colleagues to continue to engage in mutiny on the House floor.”
Race came up several times during the debate. Jones, who is Black, said Bulso, who is white, portrayed him as an “uppity Negro.” Another Republican in the chamber, Sarbjeet Kumar, said Jones saw everything through the lens of race. As the vote was held, Black members and other Democrats joined Jones at the podium. Most Republican members are white.
Pearson, speaking to reporters outside the House chambers, said the expulsion efforts were examples of white supremacy extinguishing democracy.
“It’s not a coincidence that the two youngest Black representatives and one of the few women have been targeted for expulsion,” he said. Johnson is white.
Hundreds of protesters gathered again outside the state house in the rain on Thursday and packed the gallery above the House floor, holding signs in favor of stricter gun control.
During a tense morning session, each time that one of the Democrats targeted for expulsion spoke on various bills, loud cheers could be heard erupting outside the statehouse, echoing in the chamber.
At one point as Pearson was speaking during the session on an unrelated bill, a protester in the gallery dropped a small, white placard reading: “DO SOMETHING.”
Only two Tennessee state representatives have been expelled by their colleagues since the Civil War era: one in 1980 for soliciting a bribe in exchange for blocking legislation and another in 2016 after being accused of sexual misconduct by numerous women. Both expulsions were made with overwhelming, bipartisan votes.
The Democratic Party in Tennessee is raising funds to support Johnson, Jones and Pearson in special elections that will take place if they are all expelled.