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Expelled Tennessee Rep. Says 'Autocrat' GOP House Speaker Runs Capitol Like 'Private Palace'

Ousted lawmakers Justin Jones and Justin Pearson told 'Meet The Press' host Chuck Todd that they never felt welcome at the Tennessee Legislature after being elected last year.

Twitter screenshot of Justin Jones on "Meet the Press"

The recent expulsion of two Democratic state lawmakers from the Tennessee legislature for their involvement in a gun violence protest has sparked a movement led by young people to "restore democracy," according to the lawmakers, who spoke during an appearance on Meet the Press.

Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, two young Black men who were elected to represent predominantly Black districts in Nashville and Memphis, were expelled from the Tennessee state House after participating in a protest outside the state Capitol calling for gun control measures after a shooting that killed three children and three adults at a school in Nashville.

The decision of the GOP supermajority in the Tennessee state House to expel Jones and Pearson has been criticized as anti-democratic and racist and President Joe Biden also blasted Tennessee Republicans for their "undemocratic" and "shocking" ouster of lawmakers who engaged in peaceful protest.

Jones and Pearson said that they always felt unwelcome in the state House, with Pearson calling the work environment “toxic.” Jones reserved particular ire for "autocrat" House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who he said "runs the Capitol like it’s his private palace."

You can hear what Jones said in the video below.

Jones said:

“He runs the Capitol like it’s his private palace, so there is no democracy in Tennessee. Tennessee is the most undemocratic state in the nation. Even in committees, you’re silenced from talking about the issues."
“When we tried to talk about the issue of mass shootings that plagued our community, we were silenced. And all they offered our community were moments of silence, in fact, and empty thoughts and prayers. And our community deserves more than that."
“But instead of responding to the grief and trauma of our community, the House Speaker Cameron Sexton once again silenced us.”

The "toxic" work environment manifested itself in instances where lawmakers made comments about "hanging Black people on a tree as a form of capital punishment," said Pearson, who recalled when a member got up and talked about Pearson's dashiki, saying it was "unprofessional."

Jones and Pearson felt that they did not belong in the institution because they were afraid of the "changes that are happening" in society and the "voices that are being elevated."

Despite the controversy that erupted as a result of the expulsions, Jones said "the most resounding message we’re hearing from the White House, and across the world, and people across this nation is that this attack on democracy will not go on unchallenged."

He added:

“That the Tennessee House Republicans’ attempt to crucify democracy has instead resurrected a movement led by young people to restore our democracy, to build a multiracial coalition.”
“We are in the midst of a third Reconstruction beginning here in Nashville. And I think what the message is, is that we will continue to resist, that this is not the end. That their decision to expel us is not the ultimate authority, but that the people will hold them accountable both at the county level, and in the special election, and going forward through our legal processes.”

Many have condemned the actions of the Tennessee GOP.

The expulsions brought national attention to Tennessee, with many criticizing the move as anti-democratic and racist. Jones and Pearson said that they would run to get their seats back if the legislative bodies of their respective counties decline to reappoint them but would also accept reappointment.

According to Johnson, who was the only one among the three Democrats not expelled, the state House altered several of its regulations on expressing disagreement following the election of Jones and Pearson.

Although the Tennessee House restricted debate to five minutes, Jones argued that Republicans have weaponized this regulation to completely shut down discussion.