2 Members of “Tennessee Three” seek to win special election 

August 3, 2023

Two members of the so-called “Tennessee Three” who were ousted from their state House seats amid gun protests following a school shooting, were set to compete for their seats in a special election Thursday.  

Tennessee state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, both Black, were initially expelled on April 6 while Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white, survived the vote against her after the trio were accused a week earlier of breaking House rules by calling for gun reform. All three are Democrats.

On April 10 Nashville’s city council voted unanimously to reinstate Jones to his position in the state House. Two days later, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners in Memphis voted to reinstate Pearson.

State law required the special election for the seats filled by Jones and Pearson.

The three lawmakers had called for gun reform days after a school shooting at the end of March at The Covenant School in Nashville where three 9-year-olds and three adults were killed.

The lawmakers’ call for stricter gun laws came as the state House was considering looser gun laws, including allowing people to carry rifles and shotguns in public without a permit, and to allow faculty or school staff members to carry a concealed handgun on school grounds with a permit.

On April 19, Gov. Bill Lee (R) said he would back legislation for a temporary order of protection law that would allow courts and law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from people for up to 180 days if a judge finds a person poses a “current and ongoing” risk of serious harm to themselves or others.

The governor’s statement came three days after the Tennessee General Assembly killed the “red flag” law, sponsored by Democrats, without a committee hearing.

Jones, who in 2022 won his seat with no Republican opposition, faces Republican Laura Nelson, a largely unknown candidate in the Nashville area.

Pearson faces no Republican opposition for his seat, though little-known independent Jeff Johnston is on the ballot in that Memphis-area district. Pearson had initially won his seat in a special election after the October 2022 death of state Rep. Barbara Cooper.

Electing two Democrats will have virtually no impact on the balance of power in the Tennessee state House, where Republicans hold a 75-24 seat supermajoirity.

PHOTO:  Justin Jones, Justin Pearson

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