Two expelled Democratic lawmakers reclaim seats in Tennessee special election

(This Aug. 3 story has been corrected to say ‘Justin Pearson’ instead of ‘Justin Nelson’ in paragraph 2)

(Reuters) – Two Democratic lawmakers who were expelled from the Tennessee legislature earlier this year after angering the Republican majority with a protest against gun violence won a special election on Thursday to serve out the remainder of their terms.

Justin Pearson and Justin Jones both beat Republican challengers to reclaim their seats, the Associated Press reported.

Republicans in the state’s House of Representatives voted in April to expel the two lawmakers for breaking rules of decorum a by leading a protest inside the House chamber.

The expulsions drew nationwide attention to their protest, which came after a gunman killed three children and three adults in an attack at a school in Nashville, the state capital. A third Democrat, Gloria Johnson, joined the protest but narrowly escaped expulsion.

Within a few days, local officials in Pearson’s and Jones’ districts voted to return them to their seats under a provision in the state’s constitution that lets district-level officials fill legislative vacancies until a special election can be held.

Pearson, 28, represents a district in Memphis. Jones, 27, represents a district in Nashville. Both men won their primary elections in June with over 90% of the votes, and both are in districts that heavily favor the Democratic Party.

Pearson is running against Jeff Johnston, an independent, and Jones is running against Republican Laura Nelson.

Republicans who expelled the two men said their conduct disrupted the work of the House and that it was a severe breach of decorum rules.

Democrats, including U.S. President Joe Biden who hosted the two men and Johnson at the White House in April, said the expulsion was undemocratic and disempowered their constituents in Tennessee’s two largest cities.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Michael Perry)