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‘Former’ Rep. Pearson gets OK to be Rep. Pearson again

To no one’s surprise, members of the Shelby County Commission Wednesday (April 12) voted to reappoint recently ousted Tennessee State representative Justin Pearson back to his District 86 House seat.

The 7-0 vote came during a specially called meeting. Voting to reappoint Pearson were Henri Brooks, Edmund Ford Jr., Erika Sugarmon, Charlie Caswell, Shante Avant, Miska Clay-Bibbs, and Commission Chairman Mickell Lowery. 

None of the four Republican county commissioners were in attendance. Democrats Britney Thornton and Michael Whaley had announced earlier they would be absent.

“I’m so humbled and grateful to once again represent District 86. Thank you to those who rallied, marched, wrote letters, posted on social media, and prayed for this moment,” Pearson said in a statement.

“I thank the members of the Shelby County Commission for their courage to do what is right, to protect the representation that voters in District 86 went to the polls twice to earn.” 

(Photo: William Weeks/The New Tri-State Defender)

The move matches Nashville’s Metropolitan Council, which sent Rep. Justin Jones back to his District 52 seat on Monday (April 10). 

Both are serving on an interim basis and face special elections.

“Representative Justin Jones and I are back in the People’s House and the people have begun to turn the tide. With the eyes of the nation watching, Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order to strengthen background checks for gun purchasing,” the statement read.

(Photo: William Weeks/The New Tri-State Defender)

Several of Lowery’s fellow Democrats joined the chairman in sponsoring the resolution.

The resolution was sent to the full commission without a recommendation from the body’s General Government Committee. Lowery also called for a suspension of the rules to speed the process.

“You have done well by us in making sure our voices can be heard. I think you have seen by the votes of this body that we support you going back to represent us and the things that are important to us here in Shelby County,” Avant told Pearson.

Justin Pearson enters the County Commission Chambers. (Photo: William Weeks/The New Tri-State Defender)

The vote followed a mass rally and march from the National Civil Rights Museum to the Vasco A. Smith Jr. County Administration Building.

On Monday, April 10, the then-expelled lawmakers announced they hired legal representation to ensure they are treated as full members upon reappointment.

Jones has retained the services of former U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder, with Covington & Burling LLP. Pearson, meanwhile, named Memphis lawyer Scott J. Crosby, Jef Feibelman and Sarah E. Stuart of Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC as his counsel. 

Both Pearson and Jones were expelled from the House April 6 after they joined another member, Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), in protesting inaction on gun control legislation on the House floor. 

The act of civil disobedience and citizen protests at the Capitol followed the mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville. Three staffers and three 9-year-olds were fatally shot by a man wielding an assault-style rife.

The shooter was killed by swift-action police officers.

The trio has become known nationally as the “Tennessee Three.”

(Photo: William Weeks/The New Tri-State Defender)

Addressing Pearson, Commissioner Caswell, said, “Thank you, man, for continuing to be the voice that you are. You have raised the level of respect I have for you in the fight you are fighting.” 

The super-majority GOP House members, outraged, by the protest passed HR 63 to remove Pearson, which passed by a 69-26 margin. Jones, also African American, was ousted on a 75-25 vote. Johnson, who is white, survived by a one-vote margin.

The ousters, and the glaring racial disparity of the three, drew immediate widespread condemnation.

The story made headlines across the media spectrum. Vice President Kamala Harris also visited the trio to voice support. Locally, his return was never in doubt.

“As a constituent of District 86, thank you. We look forward to your voice being heard back in Nashville. Keep doing the good work. Keep representing all of us to the best of your ability and know you all have support from this body,” said Lowery.

(Photo: William Weeks/The New Tri-State Defender)

An activist, the 28-year-old Pearson was elected in a Jan. 24 special election. The Democrat was the only candidate in the race. The cost of the one-man race has been tagged at $1 million.

No stranger to the process, it was the second time Pearson had been appointed. He first gained the seat after Rep. Barbara Cooper passed away in October at the age of 93. She was the oldest and longest-serving House member.

Pearson came to local prominence during the protests over the now-dead Byhalia Pipeline project. He co-founded the environmental advocacy group, Memphis Community Against Pollution.

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