MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — A county commission voted Wednesday to reappoint Tennessee state Rep. Justin J. Pearson (D-Memphis) to the state House seat from which he was expelled.
All seven commissioners present with the Shelby County Commission voted yes on the reappointment.
Pearson released a statement shortly afterward thanking supporters.
“I’m so humbled and grateful to once again represent District 86,” Pearson wrote, in part. “Thank you to those who rallied, marched, wrote letters, posted on social media and prayed for this moment. 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.”
Pearson added that his district had seen “more than our share of struggles” and vowed to work toward “justice for those who mourn the loss of loved ones to gun violence and endure the stubborn racial and financial disparities that have no place in our world.”
Pearson, along with fellow Democratic state House member Justin Jones of Nashville, were expelled for what House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) said was a violation of House rules after they interrupted a House session with a protest in favor of stricter gun control laws following the deadly school shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville.
A third representative, Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), survived her expulsion vote.
The House’s vote to remove Pearson and Jones but keep white Rep. Gloria Johnson drew accusations of racism. Johnson survived by one vote. Republican leadership denied that race was a factor, however.
Pearson, speaking to a group outside the Shelby County building on Wednesday, said he was glad to get back to elevating the voices of the three children and three adults who died in a school shooting in Nashville.
“We know it’s preventable because there are good laws that exist. We know it’s preventable because there are organizations advocating for the change of the law to save people’s lives,” he said before a cheering crowd. “A movement is rising. They tried to expel democracy. They tried to expel the people’s choice and the people’s vote. And they awakened a sleeping giant.”
Pearson is expected to return to the Capitol in Nashville on Thursday, when the House holds its next floor session, and plans to be sworn in there.
“This is a great day. We’ve restored democracy,” said Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Memphis), who spoke outside the Shelby County building after the vote. Pearson had interned for Cohen at the beginning of his political career.
The expulsions of Pearson and Jones last Thursday made Tennessee a new front in the battle for the future of American democracy. In the span of a few days, the two had raised thousands of campaign dollars, and the Tennessee Democratic Party had received a new jolt of support from across the U.S.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.