By KIMBERLEE KRUESI and JONATHAN MATTISE
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — In an extraordinary act of political retaliation, Tennessee Republicans on Thursday expelled two Democratic lawmakers from the state Legislature for their role in a protest calling for more gun control in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting in Nashville. A third Democrat was narrowly spared by a one-vote margin.
The split votes drew accusations of racism, with lawmakers ousting Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who are both Black, while Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white, survived the vote on her expulsion. Republican leadership denied that race was a factor, however.
The visitors’ gallery exploded in screams and boos following the final vote. After sitting quietly for hours and hushing anyone who cried out during the proceedings, people broke into chants of “Shame!” and “Fascists!”
Banishment is a move the chamber has used only a handful times since the Civil War. Most state legislatures have the power to expel members, but it is generally reserved as a punishment for lawmakers accused of serious misconduct, not used as a weapon against political opponents.
GOP leaders said Thursday’s actions were necessary to avoid setting a precedent that lawmakers’ disruptions of House proceedings through protest would be tolerated.
Republican Rep. Gino Bulso said the three Democrats had “effectively conducted a mutiny.”
At an evening rally, Jones and Pearson pledged to be back at the Capitol next week advocating for change.