“Mr. Speaker, I want to welcome the people back to the people’s house,” Jones said on the House floor soon after he walked back into the chamber. Supporters filled the galleries and had to be silenced several times by GOP leadership.
“I’m hopeful for the days ahead for Tennessee,” he said. “Not because of the actions of this body but for the people who are gathered outside of this chamber who are calling for something better. Who responded to your attack on democracy with an attack of a mass movement for justice and to restore the heart of our state. Not for what you did but for awakening the people of this state.”
Last week, Republicans also removed Rep. Justin Pearson, another millennial Black Democrat, for the same violations. Yet Republicans didn’t summon enough votes to remove a third member, Rep. Gloria Johnson, a white lawmaker who also called for changes to gun laws by briefly taking over the legislative chamber.
The “Tennessee Three” have risen to national prominence as the political firestorm surrounding the starkly partisan vote has drawn national attention to the deep red state. The series of events has also reignited the debate around gun safety in the wake of a deadly mass shooting in Nashville last month.
State lawmakers occasionally remove their fellow colleagues, but it’s often for cases involving criminal misconduct or major ethical lapses. Last week’s vote in Tennessee was exceedingly rare for its speed and partisanship. Nearly all of the Republican supermajority voted to oust Jones and Pearson, and the effort to remove Johnson fell short by a single vote.
GOP House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who likened their protest to an “insurrection,” led trial-like proceedings last week as Republicans admonished the group and urged them to repent for their outburst.
Despite Republicans’ attempt to keep him away, Jones didn’t miss a day of work. He returned to the statehouse just in time for the first full session since his removal.
Jones’ voice was noticeably raspy as he addressed the crowd via a bullhorn on the state house steps before entering the building. He was joined by Pearson as the crowd chanted “welcome home.” Jones stopped to pray with clergy before being escorted by Johnson back onto the House floor.
Under state law, local legislative bodies hold the power to reinstate ousted lawmakers — a process that typically takes several weeks — but Nashville council members voted to expedite it. A special election will be held to permanently fill Jones’ seat, a race that he’s expected to join and will likely take place later this summer.
“Our community members are more than capable of selecting their representative,” said Council Member Delishia Porterfield ahead of the reinstatement vote. “And their will should never have been undermined.”
“With this vote we will send a strong message to our state government and across the country that we will not tolerate threats to our democracy.”
Pearson, who represents parts of Memphis, is also expected to run for reelection. He’s expected to be reinstated by Memphis council members Wednesday and return to the General Assembly the following day.
After Jones’ return, the state House resumed its business as usual. At the end of the session, Sexton opened the floor for announcements and called on several members first before granting permission to Jones, the remaining lawmaker with his hand raised, to speak.
Now that Jones was a representative again, he wanted to know when his ID badge would be reinstated, along with access to the parking garage and his government email and his health insurance.
Those were mostly HR questions, Sexton replied, and told him he will not be reappointed to committees until a special election is held. Republicans stripped all three Democrats from their committees before revealing they would pursue removal.
Jones will be allowed to file 15 new bills since his the original legislation he authored was transferred to the Democratic minority leader.
Jones said he plans to use all of those “to call for common-sense gun reforms.”