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Local officials are poised to send expelled Tennessee lawmakers back to state House

Expelled Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, from left, expelled Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, are recognized by the audience at Fisk University before Vice President Kamala Harris arrives, on Friday in Nashville, Tenn.
George Walker IV
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AP
Expelled Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, from left, expelled Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, are recognized by the audience at Fisk University before Vice President Kamala Harris arrives, on Friday in Nashville, Tenn.

Impending local meetings could pave the way for former Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis to return to their posts in the Tennessee state legislature, at least temporarily.

The two former Democratic lawmakers, who were expelled by Republican colleagues after they staged a protest on the House floor calling for gun law reforms, say they want their seats back.

Jones and Pearson, both of whom are Black, were voted out of the Tennessee House on Thursday for their actions that took place in response to the deadly school shooting in Nashville.

Some 130,000 voters in heavily Black districts are currently without representation in the House. Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, who is white and also led the protest, survived expulsion by one vote.

Jones and Pearson voiced their desire to return to their seats as lawmakers in an interview with NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday.

"We will continue to fight for our constituents," Jones said.

"This attack against us is hurting all people in our state," he added. "Even though it is disproportionately impacting Black and brown communities, this is hurting poor white people ... silencing them."

Pearson told NPR's All Things Considered on Saturday that he hoped to return to the legislature. He said he and Jones were stripped of their positions because they "decided that it was time for the state of Tennessee Republicans to stop listening to the NRA and start listening to the thousands of children and teens and grandmothers and siblings who are mourning because of the effects of gun violence."

Republicans said the expelled lawmakers disrupted order and broke procedural rules in the chamber.

Local officials' meetings this week could appoint both as interim replacements for the empty seats

The vacancies of both expelled lawmakers may be short-lived.

Nashville Vice Mayor Jim Shulman has called for a special Metropolitan Council meeting on Monday to discuss filling the empty District 52 House seat left by Jones, according to an email tweeted out by councilmember Bob Mendes.

If the council chooses to do so, it could vote to appoint an interim successor as soon as Monday night, Shulman told Axios.

The majority of Nashville's 40-member council have already vowed to reappoint Jones, according to NBC News — with some signaling their intention to do so before the council meeting was even called.

After the council appoints an interim House representative nominee, the county will hold a special election — in which Jones is eligible to run — to carry out the term.

Meanwhile, the board of commissioners for Shelby County, which includes Memphis, plans to consider reinstating Pearson.

Chairman Mickell Lowery announced he was calling a special meeting on Wednesday afternoon to "consider the action to reappoint Mr. Justin Pearson to his duly elected position to represent the citizens in District 86," local station Action News 5 reported.

Chances appear to favor Pearson's return: Commissioner Erika Sugarmon told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that the former lawmaker has enough supporters sitting in the commission, which has a Democratic supermajority, to get him successfully reappointed.

The county will then hold a special election to fill the seat.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.