NASHVILLE, Pa., April 6 (Reuters) – The Republicans who control the Tennessee House of Representatives voted on Thursday to expel Representative Justin Jones, the first three Democrats to expel the party during a car demonstration in state power last week.
But by one vote in the subsequent one he tried to remove another representative, Gloria Johnson, who had stood in the demonstration with colleagues, but had not led the chanting.
Republican Senators Andrew Farmer, Gino Bulso, and Bud Hulsey introduced three resolutions on Monday to oust their Democratic colleagues and all three resolutions have already passed preliminary votes along party lines.
The body voted 72-25 on Thursday along party lines to oust Jones. The vote to remove Johnson was 65-30, one short of the supermajority needed for that ouster. A vote on Justin Pearson is expected later this evening.
Johnson can be forgiven because, unlike Jones and Pearson, she did not use a megaphone to lead chants during last Thursday’s protest, when hundreds of demonstrators flooded the state.
That protest came four days after a school shooting in Nashville killed three 9-year-olds and three staff members at the school.
Three Democratic lawmakers led protesters on the House floor to demand stricter gun laws. Republicans in their de-crets accusing the expulsion of three “disorderly behavior”, and said “they knowingly and deliberately caused disturbance and disgrace to the House of Representatives by individual and collective acts.”
Johnson, Jones and Pearson said participants in the protest were exercising their First Amendment rights – the constitutional right to free speech. They, along with other Democratic members, also said Thursday that Republican leaders have used their majority to expand speech in the chamber, and Johnson said that’s one of the reasons they’re doing as they did last week.
“We need to stand up and speak for our issues, and we support this youth who could do little else, but they are fighting like hell for their issues,” Johnson said before the chamber. in which vow he spared him.
Before he was expelled, Jones was tested.
“What we’re seeing here today is a lynch mob assembled not to lynch me, but to lynch our democratic process,” Jones said.
“There was no violence,” Jones added, referring to the demonstration he and his colleagues led on the floor of the chamber last week. “Nothing encouraged violence. In fact, what we were doing was calling for an end to the gun violence that was terrorizing our children day after day.”
But Bulso, a republican, who authored one of the expulsion resolutions, said it was clear to him that Iones “wanted to be expelled.”
“He and two other deputies carried out the rebellion very effectively,” Bulso said. “Not to expel him only to invite and continue his colleagues to riot on the floor of the court.”
Gender came up several times in the discussion. Jones, who is black, said Bulso, who is white, called him an “uppity Negro.” Another Republican in the chamber, Sarbjeet Kumar, said Jones saw everything through the lens of race. For the vote, Black members and other Democrats joined Jones on the podium. Most members are white Republicans, like Johnson.
Pearson, speaking to reporters outside the House chambers, said the eviction efforts are destroying examples of white supremacy in democracy.
“It is no coincidence that the two youngest Black ambassadors and one of the few women were targeted for expulsion,” he said.
Hundreds of protesters again gathered outside the State House in the rain on Thursday and filled the gallery above the House floor, holding signs in favor of stricter gun control.
During the morning session, every time one of the democrats targeted for expulsion spoke on various bills, loud shouts could be heard breaking out of the audience and echoing in the room.
At one point when Pearson was speaking in a meeting about a foreign bill, a protester in the lobby dropped a small, white sign: “DO THIS.”
Only two Tennessee state representatives have been ousted by their colleagues since the Civil War era: one in 1980 because of a prize bill blocked in the exchange of laws, and the other in 2016 after being accused of rape by several women. Both expulsions were carried out by overwhelming bipartisan votes.
The Democratic Party in Tennessee has been expelled for paying aid to those special elections.
Reporting by Cheney Orr in Nashville and Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by Donna Bryson, Mark Porter and Diane Craft
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.