By Sandra Stojanovic and Omar Younis
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones returned to the state House on Monday, raising his fist and declaring “power to the people” as a Nashville-area council restored him to office after his ouster for an anti-gun protest.
Republican lawmakers ousted Jones and another junior Black lawmaker last week over their protest against gun control in the courtroom, grabbing national attention with Democrats seeking to advance gun violence prevention and racial equality while the Republicans exercised their majority power.
County legislators have the power to fill local vacancies for the state of Tennessee until a special election is held to fill the remainder of the two-year term.
The Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County voted 36-0 Monday to nominate Jones, 27, as the interim representative. Last year he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives.
Republicans on Thursday voted to oust Jones and fellow Democrat Justin Pearson, but spared a white representative who joined them in their demonstration against the rules in the House well on March 30.
Unlike the other two, Gloria Johnson, the white representative, did not use a megaphone. The vote to expel her came one vote short of the necessary two-thirds majority, prompting criticism that race was a factor.
Pearson could get a similar reinstatement vote on Wednesday when the Shelby County Board of Commissioners consider reappointing him in his Memphis district.
The three were protesting the lawmaker’s stance on guns following the March 27 shooting at a Nashville school that killed three 9-year-old students and three staff members.
The Covenant School shooting was one of 146 mass shootings in the United States this year, the most to date of any year since 2016, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot or killed, excluding the shooter.
In another shooting on Monday, four people were killed by one of their colleagues at a bank in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Metro Council vote kicked off a celebration among some 600 protesters gathered outside, as people greeted Jones with cheers of “Welcome home!”
Jones then marched with Johnson to the Statehouse, carrying his name tag, and took the oath of office on the steps, surrounded by supporters.
He took his seat while the House sat, raising a fist as supporters cheered from the rostrum.
“I want to welcome people back to people’s homes,” Jones said after being redeployed.
Addressing supporters ahead of the vote, Jones accused Republicans of “plantation politics” and abuse of power.
“Thank you, because it galvanized a national movement,” Jones said. “The world is watching Tennessee.”
Board member Delishia Porterfield, who lost to Jones in the 2022 primary for the state seat, nominated him for reinstatement, saying their vote “would send a strong message to our state government and across the country.”
A spokesman for House Speaker Cameron Sexton did not immediately respond to RockedBuzz via Reuters requests for comment.
Before the vote, the spokesman said the House would seat anyone nominated by county lawmakers “as required by the constitution.”
Jones and Pearson, 28, both said they would run again in the special election.
Although Republicans control the state legislature, Memphis and Nashville are heavily Democrats. Voters in Davidson and Shelby counties overwhelmingly voted for Democrat Joe Biden over Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential race.
The expulsions have become a rallying cry for Democrats nationwide on issues of gun violence and racial inequality, and an opportunity to push back against Republican dominance statewide.
While Democrats are competitive nationally, winning the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections, Republicans hold large majorities in many of the state houses where issues such as abortion and gun control are often decided.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta, Gabriella Borter, and Rich McKay; Screenplay by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Donna Bryson, Aurora Ellis, Jonathan Oatis, Lisa Shumaker, Leslie Adler, and Kim Coghill)
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