The Mercury News Weekend
State House expels 2 Democrats over gun control protest
The Tennessee House voted Thursday to expel two Democrats from the state legislature one week after they interrupted debate by leading protesters in a call for stricter gun laws in the wake of a shooting that left six dead at a Christian school.
The extraordinary punitive action against the Democrats — Reps. Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson — for an act of protest marks just the third time since the Civil War era that the Tennessee House has expelled a lawmaker from its ranks and threatens to further inflame the partisan rancor within a bitterly divided state.
An effort to expel a third Democrat, Rep. Gloria Johnson, who had stood by the two men in the front of the chamber and joined in the chants during the protest, fell short by one vote.
The expulsions were a stunning culmination to a week that saw the conclusion of the funerals for the six killed in the shooting, hundreds of students and teachers walk out of school to protest at the General Assembly and a vitriolic debate about democracy in the state.
As protesters flooded the Capitol again Thursday, their chants of “Gun control now” and “Not one more” were deafening outside the House chamber. Inside, dozens of people held up their fists in silent protest to avoid being ejected.
The votes against Jones and Pearson passed largely along party lines after hours of deeply personal, angry and at times condescending debate. The Republican supermajority voted overwhelmingly to provide the two-thirds majority necessary to push the votes against the two men through, despite Democratic opposition.
Seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the expulsion of Johnson. Asked why she thought she had survived the expulsion vote, Johnson, who is White, said, “It might have to do with the color of my skin.”