Who were the Tennessee Democratic lawmakers at the center of expulsion?


(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — The Republican-led Tennessee House of Representatives held a hearing to vote to expel three Democratic members on Thursday over their involvement in a gun control protest last week following the Nashville school shooting.

After a day-long hearing, the House voted to expel Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, but not Rep. Gloria Johnson.

Over the last few days and during the hearing, the three said they have no regrets about speaking out against gun violence and calling on their colleagues to do more to enact laws that crack down on gun access.

Pearson told ABC News’ “Start Here,” before the vote that he and his colleagues were never allowed to speak out on behalf of their constituents, many of whom are demanding common sense gun reform, and dismissed the GOP member’s arguments that they violated the chamber’s rules of decorum.

“The people elected us, not our colleagues,” he told “Start Here.” “That is not the status quo. None of us expected that we had broken a rule that could lead to our expulsion.”

Each elected official has had deep ties to the state’s politics and has been vocal about their support for gun control.

Gloria Johnson

Johnson, 60, was born in Colorado and moved several times during her youth for her father’s work with the FBI until she was in seventh grade when her family, which had long Tennessee roots, settled in Knoxville, according to her official campaign bio.

She graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with an education degree and taught elementary and high school classes for several years. In addition to teaching, Johnson was active in local politics, helping with some field campaigns for Democratic elected officials, her bio said.

She was Knox County Democratic Party chairwoman in 2009. Three years later, Johnson was first elected to the Tennessee House representing the 13th district, which covered Knoxville.

She was defeated in the 2014 election by Republican Eddie Smith but in 2018 she regained her seat in a rematch with Smith.

Johnson, who is a gun owner, has made gun safety a top priority.

“As someone who worked in a classroom where we lost one of our students, you never forget the faces, the people, the children, and the traumatic experience. And we do not want that to happen to another child and another school,” she told ABC News.

Justin Jones

Jones, 27, was born in Oakland, California, and said he has been active in political movements since he was a teenager.

In high school, he organized rallies to speak out against “stand your ground laws” following Trayvon Martin’s death, according to his campaign bio.

He began attending Fisk University in Tennessee in 2013 and continued to take part in political activism, including a 62-day sit-in outside the Tennessee State House in protest of the controversial Dakota Pipeline construction at Standing Rock.

After graduating from the university with a degree in political science, Jones continued to work with local community activist groups, including the Tennessee Healthcare Campaign, a non-profit that advocates for affordable healthcare for all state residents.

Jones ran for office last year for the open house seat for Tennessee’s 52nd district, which includes Nashville. He had no opponents in the general election.

Jones has kept gun control at the forefront of his agenda and has repeatedly called out his Republican colleagues on their bills to loosen the state’s firearm restrictions.

“There comes a time when you have to do something out of the ordinary. We occupied the House floor today after repeatedly being silenced from talking about the crisis of mass shootings,” he tweeted before the March 30 protest.

Justin Pearson

Pearson, 27, was born and raised in Memphis and graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine with a degree in government & legal studies and education studies, according to his campaign bio.

Pearson was part of several community organizing groups, including Memphis Community Against Pollution and the Poor People’s Campaign: National Call for Moral Revival, his bio said.

After years of political work in the non-profit sector, Pearson officially became an elected member of the Tennessee House this year in a special election to replace Barbara Cooper, the 86th district’s representative who died in October 2022.

Pearson told “Start Here” he recently lost a classmate to gun violence. He noted that murders in his district are up 44% this year compared to last year.

“I think about responsibility as an elected official and the care and compassion that we should just have as people, those are together,” Pearson said.

Pearson said he and his fellow Democratic colleagues are speaking with attorneys about their next move but vowed to continue speaking out.

“Our work is not ending today. Our work is continuing,” he said.

ABC News’ Brad Mielke and Amanda Su contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.