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From left, Rep. Justin Pearson, Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Gloria Johnson in protest (WSMV)

VSU professors respond after Tennessee representative expulsions

In the wake of Tennessee’s House Of Representatives expelling two of their members, professors at VSU have taken the time to weigh in on the issue. 

The Tennessee House of Representatives voted to expel Reps. Justin Jones (D-Nashville), Justin Pearson (D-Memphis) and Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) from their positions in office after they joined a protest during a House meeting. While Johnson was able to stay in her position by one vote, Jones and Pearson were terminated from their positions and expelled on April 6. 

Three days after his expulsion, Jones was unanimously reelected to return to his position. Today Pearson followed suit. However, the issue brings up enough concern and debate for commentary among the nation.

Dr. Mandi Bailey, a VSU political science professor, discussed her opinion on why she believes these representatives were expelled on such a minor issue.

“The three legislators in Tennessee represent urban areas, they’re Democrats, and two are young Black men,” Dr. Bailey said. “These are not constituencies that the current Republican leadership in the Tennessee state House feels compelled to support.” 

Dr. Bailey also expressed concerns at what the expulsion of these two representatives means for the future of the court.

“When the discussion turns only to the obviously Republican strong arming of the legislature, the public may forget what was at the root of the Tennessee Three’s demonstration – the Republican-controlled legislature’s refusal to address gun violence beyond school security,” Dr. Bailey added.

Dr. Michael Baun, another VSU political science professor, also weighed in on the issue.

“I think what happened with the representatives in Tennessee is a disgrace and a black mark on that state and US democracy,” Dr. Baun said. “If the three representatives broke the chamber’s rules, they could have been punished in other ways that are not so extreme as depriving the citizens of two districts of the representatives of their choice.”

The protest started on March 30, when primarily students flooded the Tennessee capitol building to call for stricter gun laws in the state after the Nashville school shooting, asking the lawmakers to protect their schools from further attacks. The gathering was a completely legal protest, monitored by Tennessee patrol officers. 

Business came to a halt when the three aforementioned representatives stepped away from their seats and approached the podium, where they proceeded to lead protesters in chants in favor of gun control.

Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton called for a recess in the chamber, which lasted an hour before legislation continued. During this time, officers were given the order to clear the gallery where protesters gathered and escort them outside.

Sexton and other Republican representatives have likened the incident to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrections, where supporters of former President Donald Trump broke into the United States Capitol and vandalized the building while calling for his reinstatement as president. Sexton has since recalled some of his statements.

While there is much criticism of the event, there is also much praise for such bold action in favor of representing the people and voicing their opinions. Support has swept across the nation, and even Vice President Kamala Harris came to speak to the people of Tennessee.

“We understand when we took an oath to represent the people who elected us that we speak on behalf of them,” Harris said, according to CNN. “It wasn’t about the three of these leaders, it was about who they were representing. It’s about whose voices they were channeling. Understand that — and is that not what a democracy allows?”

The removal of these two democratically-elected representatives has led to talk about the future of democracy in America. Arguments have arisen that this is a dangerous point where democracy can be overridden by things such as super majorities, and if left unchecked, can undermine or even eradicate it entirely.

Written by Bailey Wilson, Newsletter Editor. Photo Courtesy of MGN Online.

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